kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/20/08 - 1/27/08

Friday, January 25, 2008

teacher shortage coming right up

via eduwonk:

Encouraging more recent college graduates and midcareer professionals to enter a teaching career, without requiring them to take (or commit to taking) years of education school classes, should substantially expand the pool of eligible candidates. Recent experience has shown that there is a reserve army of Americans who are interested in teaching. When the Los Angeles Unified School District needed to triple its hiring of elementary teachers following the state’s class-size reduction initiative in 1997, the district was able to do so without experiencing a reduction in mean teacher effectiveness, even though a disproportionate share of the new recruits were not certified (Kane and Staiger 2005). New York City’s Teaching Fellows program, geared to young and midcareer professionals and still requiring alternative certification, had 16,700 applicants for 1,850 spots. Similarly, Teach for America had 17,000 applicants last year for only 2,000 openings.

Expanding the pool of teacher recruits is especially important now because America’s schools will soon face a growing teacher shortage. The age of primary and secondary school teachers has increased substantially over the last twenty-five years. The median age of a public school teacher (that is, the threshold at which half the teachers are older and half are younger) rose from thirty-three in 1976 to forty-six in 2001 (Snyder, Tan, and Hoffman 2004). There are two underlying reasons for this demographic bubble. First, there was a persistent decline in the proportion of younger women choosing teaching as a career, which occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As career opportunities for women expanded (Blau and Ferber 1992), the proportion of female college freshmen interested in teaching fell precipitously in the early 1970s. Despite a small rebound in interest since that time, the proportion remains below the high levels of the early 1960s (Higher Education Research Institute 2002). Second, elementary and secondary school enrollment started declining in 1970, and districts were hiring fewer teachers (Murnane et. al. 1991). Indeed, the decline in job opportunities in teaching may have accelerated the declining interest of college students in teaching.

Thus, the college freshman of the late sixties were the last cohorts to enter teaching in large numbers. That group is now nearing sixty. Therefore, it is not surprising that 40 percent of public school teachers plan to exit the profession within five years (National Center for Education Information 2005). Similar trends have occurred in other professions traditionally dominated by women, such as nursing (Buerhaus, Staiger, and Auerbach 2000; Staiger, Auerbach, and Buerhaus 2000).

Over the next twenty years, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the school-age population age five through seventeen will grow by 10 percent. To maintain pupilteacher ratios at their current levels, the number of teachers must also grow by 10 percent, from their current level of 3.1 million to 3.4 million. Based on the data in figure 3, we extrapolated the future supply of teachers by aging the current cohorts and assuming that new cohorts will enter teaching at about the same rate as people have for the last two decades. Under this scenario, the supply of teachers will decline over the next decade and then remain at about 3 million through 2025, or nearly half a million teachers below what would be required to maintain current student-teacher ratios.

The bottom line is rather stark: Simply to maintain pupil teacher ratios, we must increase the number of people entering teaching by roughly 35 percent—back to levels not seen since the cohorts that came out of high school in the 1960s. Rather than dig further down in the pool of those willing to consider teacher certification programs or raise class sizes, we need to expand the pool of those eligible to teach. It is time to encourage young people to begin a teaching career without needing to invest in two years of education school first, and to encourage older people to try teaching as a second career.

The Hamilton Project: Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job (pdf file) by Robert Gordon, Thomas J. Kane, Douglas O. Staiger April 2006

Missing Link in the Teacher Quality Debate (discussion)

Spurred by new evidence of the importance of effective teaching to student achievement, education policymakers are seeking out new teacher compensation systems and other ways to ratchet up teacher quality. Nearly two dozen governors have proposed performance-based teacher pay plans this year, and teacher compensation reform has already surfaced in the 2008 presidential campaign.

But today's teacher quality debate has neglected a key barrier to teacher and school reform: the troubled state of teacher evaluation in much of public education. Education Sector Co-director Thomas Toch and Robert Rothman of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform address in a forthcoming Education Sector report the causes, consequences, and solutions to public education's failure to measure teacher performance.

Join Education Sector for a preview of the report's findings and an engaging discussion of this important piece of the teacher quality puzzle.

The event features:
Chris Cerf, Deputy Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
Kai Ivory, Teacher, DC Preparatory Academy
Ray Pecheone, Co-executive Director, School Redesign Network, Stanford University
Marcia Reback, Vice President, American Federation of Teachers, President, Rhode Island Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals
Thomas Toch, Co-director, Education Sector, and;
Elena Silva, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Sector (as moderator)

Haven't listened yet, but I intend to.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

that disturbing kind of uncomfortability

"that disturbing kind of uncomfortability, if that is a word"

Hearing this, my first reaction was: Uncomfortability is not a word.

Second reaction: Uncomfortability is actually a not-bad description of what these news anchors were seeing.

Still and all, a news anchor should know whether uncomfortability is or is not a word.

sauve qui peut!

the elephant in the room

from palisadesk:

You have just tripped over the elephant in the room, and that is the (frightening) fact that the entire system is, in a perverse way, results-driven. But not in the way we want. It is an engine fueled by failure, not success.

Think about it. Student failure provides endlessly expanding opportunities for job creation, innovative "projects," interventions, pseudo-research, administrivia and on and on and on. It provides educrats of all sorts with opportunities to present themselves as caring, professional problem-solvers. If they were wearing T-shirts, the front would say, "See how hard we're trying!" and the back would say, "Don't blame us, look what we have to work with."

In contrast, what does effective curriculum and pedagogy provide? Real student learning is not nearly so full of photo-ops, catchy news stories or video segments. Kids learning well and quickly aren't newsworthy. It looks, well, natural. We almost have to have a system in place to make kids stupid. Remember that the IQ of kids who don't learn to read early on will fall steadily throughout their years in school.

And if kids were effectively taught in most areas from the beginning, huge amounts could be slashed from the budgets allocated for school districts. Not a chance any will undermine their own livelihood in such a way.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stubborn to a fault

I attended our school's budget meeting tonight. Apparently, we are in dire need of a reading consultant, phonemic awareness tutorial program for scaffolding, and a mathematics intervention specialist. Yet somehow, this remediation isn't supposed to reflect on the efficacy of our chosen curriculum, which is, by all accounts, focused on critical thinking and 21st century skills.

There is a serious breakdown happening at some point early on. I can't even count the number of bright kindergarteners and first graders that have been held back due to no fault of their own. Had these children been taught well, there wouldn't be so many 8 and even 9 year olds in first grade. As Catherine says, "they do what they do."

The other side of this coin is that they want to keep spending taxpayer money on all this stuff that is clearly not getting the job done. Another item in the proposed budget is the purchase of an inquiry-based science curriculum that will eventually require remediation by some kind of science specialist or scaffolding program.

This is insane. The chosen curricula and/or pedagogy is clearly not working for a significant number of children and not only do they want to keep buying more of it, we now need remediation that may not have been necessary if these children were taught properly in the first place.

Which of the following education reform movements is the most bogus?

Over at Teach Effectively, John Wills Lloyd has opened the Education Bogus Bowl, asking:

Which of the following education reform movements is the most bogus
? (Listed in alphabetical order):

  • Block scheduling for classes at the secondary level.
  • Brain-based instruction
  • Differentiated instruction
  • Inclusion of students with disabilities in general education settings
You can only choose one. There will be other flights. Go and vote.

cross posted at I Speak of Dreams.

help desk - Earth Science

Wave Refraction

Most waves approach the shoreline at an angle. Yet when a wave reaches shallow water, it tends to swing around until it approaches the shoreline more or less head on. This swinging or bending is called refraction. Refraction occurs because the end of the wave closest to shore scrapes bottom first and slows down. The end that is still in deeper water continues at its normal speed and catches up. Thus, the wave ends up nearly parallel to the shore.

Wave refraction helps explain why an uneven shoreline with shallow water is eventually worn away to a more even shoreline. etc.

Earth Science by Spaulding & Namowitz
McDougal Littell, p. 345

Barron's gives it a go here:

Wave Refraction

Waves that enter shallow water at an angle to the beach are refracted; their direction of travel is changed. This refraction occurs because one part of the wave reaches shallow water and slows down while the rest of the wave is still in deep water and moving faster. Like a rolling log whose one end hits a tree, causing the whole log to swing around, the faster moving end of the wave swings around when the end in shallow water slows down. etc.

on the other hand...

One page later, in Spaulding/Namowitz, we find an explanation of ....

Shoreline Currents

Waves, like the winds that form them, may come from any direction. Thus, many waves approach the shreline at an angle. When such waves break, large amounts of water and sand are pushed up the beach at an angle. etc.
I'm sorry.

There is really no excuse for this kind of thing.

do affluent school districts have good schools?

This teacher is responding to the idea that wealthy suburban schools are good because they are well-funded:

Counterintuitively, I believe the exact opposite may often be the case. Schools in the "rich" areas may show superior test performance because of the generally better-developed skills of the students (enhanced by what the parents, not school, are doing) but in fact have less able teachers and an uninspired program. I have only seen true "dead wood" staff at middle-class or better schools -- in the inner city, those people would get eaten alive. Only the competent, committed or crazy survive -- and those only for a while. One needs a change of venue every 5-10 years.

My own very urban low SES school is hardly exemplary -- but it clearly has higher standards and better teaching than the semi-rural, all-white, middle-to-upper-class elementary school in the area where I live. Friends and neighbors show me the work of their kids, their report cards, and I have tested several who are clearly severely delayed (NOT LD) in basic skills yet are getting all B's and no hint of trouble on report cards. Parents are at wits' end in some cases because tutoring is not easily available around here due to rural location. One friend's son I tested was a complete non-reader at end of second grade; parent when expressing concern was told her kid was in the top half of the class and was not considered remedial material. At my low-performing school this kid would have been flagged in first grade for intervention. Not only are struggling students left floundering, but able students are bored out of their skulls -- nothing to challenge them.

EM success story

from the Dallas comments thread:

I am a student whose school used Everyday Math textbooks, and I was more than prepared for higher level math courses. However, this is because my math teachers had us put the books under our desk, and passed out real math textbooks, like Saxon Math instead. Because of the strong basic math foundation imparted by the traditional method, I have already been able to take both AB and BC calculus, and passed both AP tests with a five. I did see many other students struggling with the class not because they didn’t understand the theory, but because they were unable to perform the basic math operations. Everyday Math had crippled their basic math skills, and those are critical foundations for higher-level math.

Mrs. Wilson, you say that parents should help their kids review math, and I agree with you there. But the sad truth is, many parents don't care. The majority of students receive instruction solely in the classroom, and never receive the benefits that your daughters received. You should not focus on problem solving skills and "higher level thinking" if it prevents the students from actually learning any math. Removing Everyday Math from everyday usage is one of the best things possible for DISD's math scores.

Mrs. Wilson's comment:
my daughters 3rd grade teacher who has taught for over 25 years likes this book because it encourages higher level, multiple step thinking. People complain their kids aren't memorizing multiplication tables. Heres an idea for you, practice them at home with your child.

This comment is revealing, and wrong on every count:

  • It assumes that learning = memorizing & teaching = one-on-one flash card practice
  • It assumes that some content is "beneath" teachers and should be farmed out to parents who are also, presumably, beneath teachers
  • It assumes that teaching a child the multiplication tables is in all cases a simple and easily accomplished task

I wish to heck I could find the post quoting a Soviet teacher on the precision methodology and timing they followed for teaching the times tables.

Since I can't, I'll quote the National Math Advisory Panel, which says that "most" American children do not achieve "fast and efficient retrieval of facts." (January 11, 2007 meeting)

It is not a simple matter to teach many children their math facts, nor is it a simple matter to "practice" successfully at home. My own efforts with flash cards came to naught; I was lucky enough to stumble onto the fact that, at least for my own child, worksheets were what was needed. I have since heard the same story from other parents.

And, in the n of 2 category, I've spoken with two parents of math-disabled adult children who tried and failed to teach the math facts at home. Both were educated and intelligent women; their kids are intelligent, too. No learning problems, no behavior problems, no ADD. One of the two scored a 780 on his SAT-V.

Remediating a bad math program at home is an extremely difficult proposition.

A good teacher is far more effective than the most intelligent and dedicated parent.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

opportunities to vent

courtesy of Barry:

Shelve Everyday Math?

courtesy of me:

Should Student Test Scores Measure a Teacher's Value?

The Value of "Labs"

In a post below, Catherine questioned the value of laboratory time in science classes and implied that it was constructivist in the same way as "guess and check" in a math class.

"She was least behind in the sciences, which makes sense to me because science education became progressive many, many years ago and has remained so to this day. This is why science has always had 'labs.'"

I don't think this is inherently true. In fact, I think that well-conducted labs are crucial to a real science education.

When done poorly, labs take an hour to teach what could be taught directly by the teacher in 2 minutes ... and labs are often done poorly. One of the signs of a poorly conducted lab is that the lab is being used to teach the facts of science. You don't need to cut open a frog to learn that a frog has lungs.

Done well, though, labs teach several things that lectures do not teach well:

Lab Technique

Measuring difficult things, making notes, interpreting results, and producing a lab report that presents those results are useful skills. Like many other skills, they require practice. But I don't really want to do dissections on the dining room table and energetic reactions in the kitchen. The time and space required to learn these skills is only really available in a laboratory during school hours. Home is a poor substitute.

These skills are exactly the sort of skills that are broadly useful for life. I assert that they are entirely appropriate for a general education.

Accuracy and its Limits

Your lab results aren't going to match the ideal results. Oh, you might get lucky once and have your mean result end up fairly close to the mean expected result. But it requires good technique and a bit of luck. Without both, you are likely to end up proving that the third law of thermodynamics is all wrong. Understanding how this happens and what can cause it is pretty important.

But even if you do everything right, you won't end up with the precisely correct result. The canonical result is a statistical construct accurate only within some error band. Understanding that this is true for your experiments and for the experiments you read about in the newspaper is critically important.

Statistics and error bands are hard to understand, and a personal attempt that results in statistical results with a broader error band than you'd prefer can be useful. This must be followed, of course, with direct instruction of why this happens and what it means. But I think it best to begin with a practical demonstration.


If your lab results do match the "expected" results too closely, your teacher should be questioning them. It's more likely that pristine results are caused by cooking the books than by cooking the chemicals just perfectly. Again, this might be a universal truth.

If your answers weren't right, and you report them honestly, your results should be treated with respect. Of course, any such result should include your best estimate of what went wrong. (It's probably not the science. 8-)

In too many cases, of course, the grade depends not on good science, but on a result that matches the canonical result. I consider that to be scientific malpractice.


On the other hand, if your answers are a complete mess, it can be very useful to run through the process of determining where you made your mistakes. To do this, you need to know what the expected result was and how experimental errors could have caused bad results. This requires a fairly deep understanding of the science, and probably requires direct help from a more knowledgeable source, at least in the beginning. Again, this sort of practice has significant real-world value.

Scientific method

Observe, hypothesize, test, theorize, identify falsifying criteria, test for falsification, modify theory. The process is both rigorous and useful, and not just in science. But to see it in action, you have to do it. If you only ever do experiments where you know what to expect, you'll never get to see this powerful tool in action.

Unfortunately, this isn't the practice in most HS labs. Some labs for every student should ask interesting questions and let the students find out the results. I view egg-drop experiments in this category, but not as they were done for C. When done well, a negative result is just as important as a positive result.

If you find that embedding an egg in jello is ineffective in dissipating kinetic energy, that's just as valid a result, and just as worthy of points, as finding out that parachutes work well.

Proof of the Unusual

Some concepts are very difficult to understand or believe. For at least some of these, a demonstration can be very useful. For example, torque is deeply counterintuitive -- until you've seen a spinning wheel supported only at one end and not falling over, you probably just won't get it. Once you do see it, you probably won't forget it. And, of course, for a visceral [1] understanding of what the inside of a creature is like, there's nothing better than a dissection.


As I see it, then, to get value for time in a laboratory, a teacher must do the following:
  • Identify the course content that is best taught in a lab rather than in a lecture.

  • Identify the goal or goals of each individual lab experiment.

  • Evaluate your success in meeting those goals.

  • Remediate the failures as soon as possible.

  • Reinforce in lectures the lessons that you intended to teach in labs.

  • Grade lab reports that have the wrong results the same as labs that have the correct results, as long as the student cogently discusses both the deviation from the expected results and the probable reasons for that deviation.

Let me reiterate that I don't think that labs are a good way of teaching scientific content -- with the limited exception of a few counter-intuitive cases. But I think that labs are crucial to teaching science.

[1] Sorry; couldn't resist.

Update: Added sixth bullet to "Advice" as recommended by Tracy. (Thanks!)

hell is other people

“Throughout human history, you see that the worst problems for people almost always come from other people, and it’s the same for the monkeys. You can put them anywhere, but their main problem is always going to be other rhesus monkeys.”

from the Times

grade inflation


No way I'm getting out alive.

Monday, January 21, 2008

education historian

Ed's in France, where he met a woman who is a historian of education.

She confirmed the big-fish-in-the-small-pond thesis: better to be the star student in a no-name school than the merely good student in a star school. She was the star in a working class school somewhere in Massachusetts, I believe, and she said Harvard pretty much just "plucked her out."

When she got there, she was completely unprepared. She'd never written a paper in her life (me, too, when I went to Wellesley); she couldn't do history, literature, etc.

She was least behind in the sciences, which makes sense to me because science education became progressive many, many years ago and has remained so to this day. This is why science has always had "labs." (I can no longer remember or find my source on this. sigh. I do recall David Klein once telling me that the situation in science is even worse than the situation in math.)

In short: the public school education she'd received in the humanities was her worst handicap. She was light years behind her peers.

She told Ed that progressive education started as a way to educate the children of the working class, the idea being that they should be taught life skills rather than the liberal arts disciplines.

Subsequently progressive ed spread to the children of the middle class, so now those kids don't have to be taught the liberal arts disciplines, either. Ironically, she said, the few schools in which you can find teachers teaching traditional content are located in working class neighborhoods.

Her view, which is now mine, is that there are no good public schools. Period.

I'm sure that's wrong as an absolute; there have got to be some good public schools out there. But I don't know where they are or how to find them.

Now my question is: have Catholic schools declined, too?

And if so, have they declined as much as public schools?

pause for reflection

from the Sun:

A prominent supporter of a market-based approach to improving public schools, Sol Stern, says he no longer believes charter schools or vouchers are a "panacea."

In an article published in the latest edition of City Journal, Mr. Stern, a Manhattan Institute fellow, portrays the libertarian approach that once inspired him as a failed experiment, and urges those who agree with him to search for a "Plan B."

The idea that what public schools need is not more money but more competition has become a major school of thought in education circles — "the dominant challenge in terms of big politics of school reform," a professor of education and political science at Columbia University's Teachers College, Jeffrey Henig, said.

Mr. Stern's article appears to be the latest in a series of indications that its dominance is flagging.

C"There's a growing consensus that a market approach alone is not enough," the president of the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, Tom Carroll, said. He added: "There's a need for a moment of reflection."

A Libertarian Is Searching For an Education 'Plan B'
by Elizabeth Green
January 14, 2008

letter in today's paper:

The libertarian approach to improving public schools has never in and of itself been enough to improve public schools, and it has long been obvious, as Sol Stern points out, "that curriculum and pedagogy should be considered along with market solutions" [New York, "A Libertarian Is Searching For an Education 'Plan B,'" January 14, 2008].

For this reason the only charter schools that have succeeded are those which adopted rich content and proven teaching methods. Although Thomas Carroll rightly calls for "a moment of reflection," it should be added that a moment should suffice. There is no need to ponderously "search" for "Plan B."

While maintaining the market approach, the schools should, one, adopt E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s "cultural literacy" program, which re-establishes rigorous literature, math, etc., and, two, employ the traditional, teacher-centered pedagogies demonstrated by Jeanne Chall, in the Academic Achievement Challenge, to be effective.

Bronxville, N.Y.
A moment should suffice -- I love it!

Sol Stern in City Journal
pause for reflection