kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/25/08 - 6/1/08

Saturday, May 31, 2008

down under

tour de force:
The curriculum for public confidence
Published Thursday, 14th December, 2006
by Bruce Wilson

I was the first person in my family to finish secondary school. My father had left school at 12, because he was needed on the farm. My mother left formal school even earlier because of a death and disruption in the family. In neither case were the decisions made about their education considered odd or unsympathetic. Education, at the time when my parents were doing it, was not the answer to the future.

However, increasingly throughout that period, the terms of the educational offer changed. There was a sharp divergence, starting during the 70s, between professional and public understanding of the educational offer. When educators spoke, the public's eyes glazed over. Our rhetoric was full of arcane language and secret business. It was during that period that the profession came to believe that education was no longer about filling up people's minds with a lot of stuff.

I remember from my Diploma in Education, and subsequently, lots of analogies based loosely on the jug and the mug, which is the most pervasive image of traditional education in the professional mind. The analogy sees the teacher as the wielder of the jug, and the student as the mug, the recipient of the contents. In this bad old model of education, the teacher stood over the student pouring knowledge into the student's head, and occasionally splashing it over the student's shoulders. This was taken to be an extremely bad thing, and shortly before my Dip Ed year at La Trobe University had apparently been replaced with a greatly improved new model in which the teacher and the student sat around the jug and discussed it, or wrestled for control of it, or kicked it over in a display of class solidarity. Everyone was very excited about this new model and we students of teaching spent most of the year chatting about it, when we weren't drawing up manifestos for a democratic revolution or going to the football.

This challenge to the control of the teacher was closely related to other changes in the status of authority figures. At about the same time, Roland Barthes was gloating over the dying body of the author, while a number of theologians had a little earlier disposed of God in a bloodless coup. The fuss was about knowledge. That was what filled the jug wielded by the teacher. That was what the author had, and had to be dispossessed of. That was what God represented. Somehow, while we weren't watching, knowledge became a bad thing. It was erased from the educational offer, or at least reduced substantially in importance. Knowledge became identified among the leaders of the the teaching profession as a badge of privilege, a way of reinforcing social inequality. Knowledge was the carrier of power relationships. In the place of knowledge we substituted process. What mattered was that students investigated, explored, constructed their own understanding of the world. The content of those investigations was not what counted.

But the users of education, parents and students, were unaware that the fine print had changed. They were still expecting, and still expect today, that education should result in greater knowledge, while the providers of education hold a rather different view about the outcomes of education. (If not knowledge, then what?)

There are many reasons why we have seen a decline in public confidence in schooling, and notably in public schooling. This article will not address most of them. But in the area of curriculum, we lost the public when we decided that something other than knowledge was the purpose of education.


There are four changes which would probably make a significant difference to public confidence.

Firstly, we should have one curriculum in Australia rather than some indeterminate number. A curriculum which was developed nationally would not in itself dramatically change public understanding: many people think we already have a national curriculum....The work should be undertaken by an agency independent of, but responsive to, those who presently manage education systems. This will help ensure that the work is designed to meet educational needs rather than political exigencies, and avoids the cluttered and opaque theoretical foundations which afflict many current curriculum documents.

Secondly, we should write our curriculum in English. No Australian curriculum document at present is comprehensible to a lay reader. We should aim for documents which are simple, explicit, and designed to be read and understood by interested parents. This approach has a number of advantages, beyond making our intentions clear to the users of education. It would assist teachers, who are mostly obliged to use official curriculum documents, to understand what we expect of them. It would enable the documents to be used in support of education rather than, as at present, as evidence of our failure. Finally, it would provide a practical illustration of the benefits of education, demonstrating that as educated individuals we can write something which is accessible to a non-expert reader.

Thirdly, we should fill those documents with explicit statements of the knowledge which we intend to impart to young people. We should base these statements on the disciplines, which represent the most powerful ways yet devised of understanding the world. Our purpose should be to teach young Australians their history and geography, introducing them to the artistic, scientific, cultural, moral and linguistic traditions which should sustain them. Our aim should be to guarantee every child a framework of knowledge which can provide a foundation point from which to comprehend and gain power over the world. Most Australian curriculum at present offers a mass of ill-digested competing frameworks, which complicate the documents and bury the really important things beneath a heap of someone's good ideas.

And fourthly, we should make the documents brief. We can do this by avoiding turgid and impenetrable introductions, lengthy lectures about teaching and extended riffs on a range of overlapping frameworks. Most obviously, we can do it by including less stuff.

I do not claim that these changes would restore public confidence in schooling. They would, however, make the curriculum a tool for restoring confidence rather than a club to beat it to death.

and again:

We should base these statements on the disciplines, which represent the most powerful ways yet devised of understanding the world.

Race Between Education and Technology

The book is out. These are major academics, fyi.

Excerpt here. (pdf file)

Table of Contents

Part I: Economic Growth and Distribution
1. The Human Capital Century
2. Inequality across the Twentieth Century
3. Skill-biased Technological Change

Part II: Education for the Masses in Three Transformations
4. The Origins of the Virtues
5. Economic Foundations of the High School Movement
6. America's Graduation from High School
7. Mass Higher Education in the Twentieth Century

Part III. The Race
8. The Race between Education and Technology
9. How America Once Led and Can Win the Race for Tomorrow

related: public confidence in the schools
In the early 1970s, not only did most Americans believe that the public schools were functioning reasonably well, a sizable majority of adults thought that public education had actually improved since they were kids. Today, only a small minority of Americans share this optimistic view. Instead, the majority now believes that schools have gotten significantly worse. Fully half of all Americans are dissatisfied with America’s public education system, a deep concern shared by black and white parents alike.

The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke
by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi

It looks to me as if public confidence in the schools declined at the same time Goldin and Katz find public education no longer keeping pace with developing technology -- and no longer serving to decrease inequality.

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences
Pushy parents raise more successful kids

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been

A private public school, or a public private school?

Allison left a comment on a previous post that’s been gnawing at me. It’s not that I disagree with her necessarily, but rather that she has uncovered (unintentionally or not) what I believe to be a great truth in education.

In response to a comment I made about building a private school model that relies on both tuition and community support, she writes:

The value of using only tuition in a for profit model is that you can really be a private institution. Once you allow funding sources from other places like "the community", you've increased your stakeholders again, and you're back to the place where you aren't in control, because "the community" has its own ideas of what's an acceptable "education". If you're a for-profit private company, you have the most autonomy, and that's the best for implementing your ideas with the least number of stakeholders.. For-profit public companies have external shareholders to be beholden too, as well--that also poses problems.

Without intending to, she has just laid out the exact line of thinking of our current public school administrators.

Remember that, from an administrator’s point of view, their money doesn’t come from the public – it comes from the government. That’s who signs their checks. The last thing they want is support from the community, because it would come with strings, and they’d end up dealing with a long list of stakeholders. They’d lose their status as sole authority.

(And sure, they take some types of support, as long as it’s on their terms: unrestricted cash contributions from the PTA, parent volunteers to whom they can assign projects, and so on. But nothing that would require them to share or give up the helm.)

So, ironically, it turns out that our public schools are operating like private institutions: as autocracies with no one to answer to but themselves.

When I suggested the idea of a private school that made up for low tuitions with community support, I was interested in going in exactly the opposite direction: a school that thrived through the engagement of its supporters. Not just “only-on-my-terms” engagement, but stakeholders with a voice.

How would that be possible without creating conditions of chaos or drift? By doing what public education has failed to do: creating a set of firm guiding principles governing the mission of your school.

We haven’t had a national conversation about the purpose of public education in decades (if we ever did), and as a result we have no shared set of objectives to guide what a school should and should not do. But if we were to do that on an individual school level, at least for this hypothetical private school, I think it could work.

Imagine if we had a guiding statement like this:

At ????? Elementary School, we believe that our sole job is to help children build the academic foundation they need to excel in their school careers and, ultimately, as citizens and workers once they leave school. To this end, we believe the following:

  • Children should be taught to mastery in reading, math, and writing
  • Children should build their knowledge of the sciences to help them understand the world around them
  • Children should understand the civic and political structures of the United States, and why we believe it is the best system in the world; they should also learn its history, including both its triumphs and its missteps
  • We cannot know whether learning has occurred unless we assess students. Assessments are conducted regularly and are used to measure accomplishment and to guide future instruction
  • Every child should meet high and objective standards set collaboratively with our stakeholders
  • If a child has not learned, it means we have not taught. (with apologies to Zig Englemann)

(These are just for examples, btw – don’t get hung up on them :-))

If you lay out explicitly what you believe and what you strive to accomplish, you can say to your parents and your community members: This is a private institution; you do not have to participate. However, if you do, you have to understand that the guiding principles of this school will remain constant: they will not change, and it is this vision that you are buying into. Within this framework, which is set in stone, our stakeholders have a real voice in how we accomplish these ends, and we have boards set up that you can join, and that hold sway on the operations of this school.

If you do this – and make sure your boards make decisions on good data – you can have a public model of a private school.

What do you think – am I wrong about how public schools operate like private institutions? Am I wrong that a private school can be democratically run by its stakeholders?

What Shamu Taught Me...

...about a Happy Marriage

My Karen Pryor dog treats and target stick have arrived, and my dogs (Surfer and Abby) are liking the clicker, liking the treats, and are happy to touch their noses to the target or drop their bodies down to the floor.

Neither has, as yet, experienced a lightbulb moment.

I'm gathering my courage to try this with Andrew. His behavior has got to get under control this summer. When Ed gets back from L.A., we're all going to have a go at the training game.

trainer's motto: It's never the animal's fault.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Extra Credit

6th grade math extra credit question:

How many numbers between 1000 and 2000 are the same when you turn them upside down?

The answer was five.

This is math?

And, um, five??

Advanced Placement & TAKS

starsfan0271 wrote:

7th grade English teacher here:

Please let's go back to basics. Our kids need to learn that having poor grammar and typos may be ok for texting, or even commenting on boards, but it's not gonna cut it when trying to express yourself to a wider audience.

Advanced Placement tests for Language require knowledge of the parts of speech--by not explicitly teaching them, we are already hurting our kids chances of earning AP credit and doing well in Freshman comp in college.

5/23/2008 2:46 PM CDT

a little brain-based research is a dangerous thing

Another comment from the TAKS article:

Riebs wrote:

The members and even the well-meaning reporters who are writing are missing the message: teachers are teaching GRAMMAR. The lessons are taught directly and then applied in the current piece of writing the student is performing. When the grading rubric is designed , students and teacher together discuss which skills have been highly focused on in that particular piece of writing ....which is the application of the grammar, punctuation, usage, agreement, skills that have been directly taught, then conference on, then expectantly applied withint the piece. They then decide on the point value of each skill to be scored highly...GRAMMAR IS IN THE DOCUMENT.

We know people who never got it, who struggled with it, and those of us who found it fun because it happened to have been where we were developmentally. Research has taught us in the last 30 years just when that frontal lobe of the brain works...the abstracting used to be that we expected kids to be able to LOCK IN grammar and other abstract skills between ages 12-17...and now we know that research shows that that may even extend for many individuals into the mid spending time stuffing skills into kids; heads for momentary understanding takes away depth in the students' connections and engagement in their day. Yes, present grammar as concretely as possible, but don't expect mastery to come early for some concepts....

It is folly for the news media and the state board to talk about not enough grammar in the school day at early ages..teachers are teaching grammar. But take any book that is well published and find no error, no stylistic features no incomplete rhetorical statements for emphasis. You can't find one.

It's not about "being more creative," because in the editing stage before any creative piece is published and posted, students must edit and retaught necessary grammar skills and must negotiate with the professional who is the teacher, just what sylistic license can be taken. And yes, even the babies....first grade on, have SOME editing the end of a piece to be posted.....but very few simply because of developmental level. The good teacher is always nudging for new skills for even the young, like sentence combining to make a young one's developmental begin to grow.

I have sat from March through this May 15th situation, and I can tell you, the games the 9 members of the board have played is astoundingly embarrassing for each and every tax payer in Texas, and I believe Texas will be duly embarrassed as the politicians take a national look at what Texas is doing, for we have supposedly been a leader in No Child Left Behind....ha...big joke...and I have educator daughter in special needs I know what it's all doing at that level, too.

Grammar is tested on TAKS at 4th grade, for sure, within the writing passage those kids are given to do in one sitting....they are expected to have a specific level of control within those pieces of grammar, agreement, correct parts of speech, and all forms of basic punctuation, capitalization...It's just scored in the final copy they present to the state....control of that is necessary for adequate scoring. Remember, they have NO TEACHER INPUT so they must have been taught the importance of editing when they are alone writing for publication, which that test requires.

There's not an adult out there, who could do a piece at the adult level on a TAKS writing test that SOME grammarian and editor out there would not question. We even see careless errors on pieces that come in from adults for don't tell me grammar is not in the teacher's minds, hearts, and daily classrooms. Their kids can't survive without it, and it is curriculm everywhere in the state text books, but WITH writing strands.

Teachers ARE direct teaching grammar. We have a SBOE that are NOT curriculum savvy, and they are driving research on learning into the dump in Texas, quite unbeknownst to them, even when they care. They may have sat and listened to nearly 7th PHD, CURRICULUM SPECIALISTs, researchers in education in all these meetings, but they have not HEARD...and certainly they have just been showing us that they can't comprehend...but how should that surprise us...they voted comprehension teaching down twice...even as Mr. Craig tried to work it in in an amendment. Two board members, shortly after the voted T document down 9 to 6....said, If we are going to cut and paste from the teacher document into the Standard Works document we just accepted, so that we GET THE TEACHER DOCUMENT, why did we just vote it down? Mr. Allen, Mrs. Knight, paraphrased.

Don't get me started....thanks if you hung in there and read all this stream of conscience writing....please don't edit...I haven't for this conversation. Riebs

Student developmental levels and the last 30 years of brain-based research in exactly HOW the brain learns through engagement is a missing element in many of these bloggers' background. I am a taxpayer, parent, teacher, writing specialist, researcher...literacy professional. I am completely offended by the decision of the board....but I will tell you..I, too, loved diagraming in school. I could see it as a puzzle...just give me a longer one....I loved it....and I never wrote or for the most part EVER considered, even in high school or college (50's/60's) how I was applying grammar skills. I must say, for many of you out there who ARE talking great: grammar: it's how I somehow the reader and correct structurer I am today...people...we are out there. But for most American students, grammar never gave them what you and I have naturally....and they never learned better from it....

BECAUSE OF ONGOING RESEARCH WHEN CAN BE CONFIRMED AS CORRECT....THROUGH THE USE OF SOPHISTICATE EQUIPMENT THAT SHOWS WHEN THE BRAIN IS ENGAGING FOR DEEP LEARNING AND WHEN IT ISN'T, children and adults, for that matter, should learn through engagement that is meaninful, not through isolated bits and pieces.

5/23/2008 12:00 PM CDT

Perhaps this Comment is not the best advertisement for the lifelong benefits of sentence diagramming.

Be that as it may, this is the part that gets to me:

Research has taught us in the last 30 years just when that frontal lobe of the brain works...the abstracting used to be that we expected kids to be able to LOCK IN grammar and other abstract skills between ages 12-17...and now we know that research shows that that may even extend for many individuals into the mid twenties.

I despair.

Yes, research shows that the frontal lobes continue to mature throughout the teen years and into the twenties. Martha Denckla once told me that myelination continues into the 30s but I can't find a current reference for that, so perhaps it happens in the 20s.

This research has nothing to do with the ability to learn abstract material:

The belief that children of particular ages cannot learn certain content because they are “too young” or “not ready” has consistently been shown to be false.
Fact Sheet
National Math Panel

Not only can young people with immature frontal lobes learn abstract material, we have evidence that young people with immature frontal lobes may learn algebra better than older people with mature frontal lobes:

New fMRI evidence suggests that adolescents could be at an advantage for learning algebra compared with adults. Qin and colleagues present findings indicating that after several days of practice adolescents rely on prefrontal regions to support the retrieval of algebraic rules to solve equations, as do adults. Unlike adults, however, after practice adolescents decrease their reliance on parietal regions, which assist in the transformation of the equations, suggesting an enhanced ability for learning algebra. These findings are discussed with regard to adolescent brain maturation.
Algebra and the adolescent brain (pdf file)
Beatriz Luna
Trends in Cognitive Science
Vol. 8, No. 10 October 2004, p 437-439

What "30 years of research" actually shows us, if I may be so bold, is that expecting adolescents to "take responsibility for their own learning" is a very bad idea.

to wit:

Reuben Gur: Well I think it is a frequent experience with people who have raised teenagers, or been around them, that they are every bit as smart as they will ever be and some of them are smarter than their teachers or their parents. Their memory and their ability to absorb new information and ability to reason through complex problems - and yet sometimes they do something that leaves you wide-mouthed, wondering, 'What were they thinking?' And they could then afterwards explain to you perfectly why what they did was wrong, it’s just that it didn’t all fall together at the right moment in the right circumstances. And that’s exactly what may be the result of the fact that the connections between the reasoning part of the brain and the sensory and the action part of the brain and the emotional part of the brain - all those regions need to meet with their context in the frontal lobe and right now there is no highway there, it’s only a rural road that is sometimes disrupted.

Rebels and the cause - the adolescent brain

whole everything

I'm reading the comments on the Texas vote, and have come across a terrific statement of the wholeism taught in ed schools:

paul002 wrote:

Encourage reading and writing first. Worry about grammar later. Do you teach babies the proper way to greet someone before their first word? No, you do not. You speak around them enough so they emulate what they hear. They begin speaking in incomprehensible baby talk and progress to sentences. It is the same with reading and writing. Read to children, teach them to read, and encourage them to read on their own. At the same time, teach them to write. If they are reading, they will try to emulate what they read. As they get better at writing, you can work on grammar and editing. This is why publishers have editors and writers don't do their own editing.

If you want to "go back to basics," then how much more basic can you get than teaching the written language in the same manner that you learned the spoken language?

5/23/2008 8:52 AM CDT

I'd like to slap a sticker on that one.

If I had a sticker.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

in Texas

English standards head back to basics
Teachers bitter as divided board expected to alter curriculum today

Texas Education Board rejects English teachers' input on new curriculum standards

The board's social conservatives, joined by Republican moderate Geraldine Miller of Dallas and San Antonio Democrat Rick Agosto, prevailed, 9-6, for a plan that features a back-to-the-basics approach for grammar and reading comprehension. A final vote on the plan is scheduled for today.


"Most of the teachers in this state are going to be furious," said Alana Morris, past president of CREST (Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas).


For some board members, though, it came down to process and a different educational approach. The prevailing side wants grammar taught separately instead of incorporating it in the context of writing.

"We believe you need to know those skills first, and then you can incorporate them into your writing," said member Terri Leo, R-Spring. "We feel the other side thinks that you are going to learn things by osmosis, by just writing."

Right you are, Terri Leo, R-Spring. The other side does indeed think that you are going to learn things by osmosis, by just writing:

Top-down [teaching] means that students begin with complex problems to solve and then work out or discover (with the teacher's guidance) the basic skills required.
Educational Psychology, 7th edition
Robert Slavin
p 259
top-down teaching

Hand kids an undifferentiated mass; let them figure it out.

Have I mentioned lately that I spent 7 years of my life trying to determine the relevant parts of autism?

I don't recommend it.

Speaking of undifferentiated masses, today's news from Texas is a case of synchronicity. Just this afternoon I was saying to Barry G that it is past time for our merry band to re-visit the strands.*

bonus observation: social conservatives, a Republican moderate, and a Hispanic Democrat

Holy moly.

If I were a CRESTy, I would be asking myself whether it's a good idea to be inspiring these folks to make common cause. Which would lead me, I'm pretty sure, directly to the conclusion that I should not be posting sentiments like these on the worldwide web.

fearless leader

Texas Alternative Document
Elaine McEwan recommends Texas Alternative Document
top-down teaching
constructivism: the mother lode

*the strands decoded

fun with Spanish centered stuff

Just for fun, I ran the Spanish translation of the Prentice Hall letter Catherine posted through Word's translation feature. Here's what the computer thinks this all means in English:

Dear family,

Welcome to ________________. I wait for with illusion a successful year in ________________. In order to prepare to our students for future challenges in mathematics, we have chosen a program that includes an active approach to the learning of abilities to solve problems.

Our text book, published by Prentice Hall, is a program centered in the student. Its style takes to the students to the discovery of mathematical ideas. Soon, once they discover those ideas, they communicate what they have learned and they apply what they know. The program requests to them that they solve problems individually and in equipment. One focuses to situations of the real life to help the students to appreciate the power of the mathematics in its daily life.

Our goal is to form an association with the family and members of the community. United we can create a learning atmosphere that really helps our students. Throughout this scholastic year, we will invite you to participate in scholastic year, we will invite you to participate in scholastic events and projects of the home and the school. His son or daughter will take to the house, periodically, activities that you will share and experiment together in family. All the suggestions or commentaries are welcomes that they want to do to us on our program. If they have questions on the activities of his student in the class of mathematics, them request that leaves a message me ________________. In its message tell me which is the best hour to give back its call to them. They can also write to me to ________________.

It excites the idea to me to work with you to manage to have a satisfactory and successful scholastic year.



Just imagine receiving this letter in your child's backpack. Now you have an idea of how that Spanish speaking family member is feeling when they read that funky student-centered waste of trees from the good folks at Prentice Hall.

On the positive side of things, this type of computer translation is precisely why it will be awhile before my work as a translator is easily replaced by technology. It's nice to feel I still have a purpose in the 21st century.

Having it both ways; Everyday Math Responds to NMP report

I received a copy of a response that the good folks at Everyday Math prepared in response to the National Math Panel report. Cheryl Van Tilburg who lives in Singapore was kind enough to provide it to me. She got it from the curriculum head at the Singapore American School which her children attend. Yes, they use Everyday Math at that school. Right. "Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink."

One of the authors was Jim Flanders who has been with EM for many years. It is too long to post the whole thing, so here are excerpts, plus some comments written by a math professor who is heavily involved in the issue of K-12 math education.

The basic message that EM puts forth is we do everything the NMP wants but we disagree with it all.

"For many reasons an Algebra course is a "gateway to later achievement", but for reasons we detail later the EM authors do not believe it is the gateway as the panel recommends. There is evidence, in fact, that the gateway is much more flexible than the panel maintains. For example, in the mid- 1990s the U.S. Military Academy changed its first (gateway) mathematics course for all freshmen from Calculus (a primary reason Algebra is so important) to a Modeling course based primarily on discrete mathematics and embedded in computing technology. In short, exactly what are the gateway or critical topics of a 21st-century mathematics education is a matter of considerable debate."
The mathematician's response: "They neglect to mention that as soon as the Military Academy students are done with their Modeling course they have to all take 2 or 3 semesters of Calculus, for which you need that algebra.

"The authors believe that a curriculum focused solely on the panels "Critical Foundations of Algebra" (i.e., arithmetic with whole numbers and fractions) would be a step backward and would not prepare students for success in tomorrow's world. Further, many of the parents of todays children had very unhappy experiences with the panels limited definition of mathematics. Most of them want their children to have the richer mathematical experience that EM has to offer."

Mathematician's response: "Here we have K-12 educators redefining mathematics, partially based on the logic that some parents had"very unhappy experiences" when they were kids learning math. "

"... the authors believe that the paper-and-pencil skills championed by the panel are simply the ones that students learned in the mid 1900s and are insufficient preparation for careers and daily life in the 21st century."."

Mathematician's response: "The necessary math hasn't changed or been redefined. If they were getting all kids to learn the basics, then this branching out might make sense, but such is not the case."

"EM also requires that students explore several computational algorithms. Knowing a variety of algorithms can (1) help with a variety of computational tasks, including estimation, in which a standard algorithm might be inefficient; and (2) help students better understand the concepts behind standard algorithms. Yet EM also encourages and supports teacher in being sensitive to individual differences. Some students may need to focus on one algorithm over all others and suggestions for how to identify such students are in the Teachers LessonGuides."

Mathematician's response:

"Note that like in TERC Investigations, there is no emphasis on learning efficient algorithms. Worse,note that it is what the students themselves "need tofocus on" that determines what a student uses. This student chosen algorithm might work well in an EM class in elementary school, but it ismy understanding that it is very difficult to get students to change once they are comfortable withan algorithm, and such an algorithm may not even be remotely comfortable when the student getsto college. This is a real, and unbelievable, disservice to students."

"They [fractions] are also represented in fraction-manipulating calculators, which are primarily tools for allowing students to do many more calculations with fractions than can be done on pencil-and-paper.

Mathematician's response: "Maybe so, but they won't get the "conceptual understanding of fractions" the NMP wants. "

Perhaps Andy Isaacs and Jim Flanders would care to offer their thoughts?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

how do you say "student-centered" in Spanish?

Student Progress Report (pdf file)

Substitute Teacher's Quick Reference. (pdf file) [ed.: check out the final column]

Substitute Teacher's Survival Kit (pdf file)

Letter to the Family (pdf file)

Carta a la familia (pdf file)

Letter of Invitation to Attend Family/Teacher Conference (pdf file) [ed.: family/teacher? not parent? I'm calling that a demotion]

Spanish version (pdf file)

lost in translation
Querida familia,

Bienvenidos a ________________. Espero con ilusión un año exitoso en ________________. Para preparar a nuestros estudiantes para retos futuros en matemáticas, hemos elegido un programa que incluye un enfoque activo al aprendizaje de habilidades para resolver problemas.

Nuestro libro de texto, publicado por Prentice Hall, es un programa centrado en el estudiante. Su estilo lleva a los estudiantes al descubrimiento de ideas matemáticas. Luego, una vez que descubran esas ideas, comunican lo que han aprendido y aplican lo que saben. El programa les pide que resuelvan problemas individualmente y en equipos. Se enfoca a situaciones de la vida real para ayudar a los estudiantes a apreciar el poder de las matemáticas en su vida diaria.

Nuestra meta es formar una asociación con la familia y con miembros de la comunidad. Unidos podemos crear un ambiente de aprendizaje que realmente ayude a nuestros estudiantes. A lo largo de este año escolar, los invitaremos a ustedes a participar en eventos escolares y en proyectos del hogar y la escuela. Su hijo o hija llevará a la casa, periódicamente, actividades que ustedes compartirán y experimentarán juntos en familia.

Son bienvenidas todas las sugerencias o comentarios que quieran hacernos sobre nuestro programa. Si tienen preguntas sobre las actividades de su estudiante en la clase de matemáticas, les ruego que me dejen un recado a ________________. En su recado díganme cuál es la mejor hora para devolverles su llamada. Pueden también escribirme a ________________.

Me entusiasma la idea de trabajar con ustedes para lograr tener un año escolar satisfactorio y exitoso.



This document poses a conundrum.

Given a choice, would you prefer:
  • not having the first clue what school personnel are talking about because your district communicates with parents families via form letters purchased from the publishers of your child's math curriculum
  • not having the first clue what school personnel are talking about because you don't speak English
This is the moment where, if I were having this conversation here at home, somebody would say, "That's splitting hairs."

update 5-29-2008, from the instructivist

The sugerencia I would give them is to shove it.

My thoughts exactly.

Teacher's Forms and Letters: the Complete Set
how to get parent buy-in
Everyday Math does it, too
I'm sorry, Bob and Mark
getting your math message out to parents
Carolyn on getting your math message out to parents
Math Trailblazers Parent Letters
Compare and Contrast
Education Jargon Generator

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Singapore Math Trainings, via The Dyslexia Tutor

I've been over there, with hardly any internet access, so my apologies if this is old news to y'all.

The Dyslexia Tutor (Adrienne Edwards) has a post on Singapore math:

Intensive Five-day Summer Institutes in teaching “Singapore Math” are scheduled in Orlando (June 23-27), San Francisco (July 14-18), and Boston (July 28-August 1).

These three will focus on the fundamentals, and are geared to teachers of grades 1-6 who have little or no experience in Singapore Math, “especially those who intend to supplement a non-Singapore Math program or adopt a Singapore Math program.”

Go read her whole post. She has a good description of the Singapore program.

I was over there for this event. It is a brave woman who takes on three mothers-in-law. And we are indeed separated by a common language.

knowledge is good, part 2

Christian Crayton had three words to describe the test prep he did for the ACT college entrance exam as a junior at Chicago Vocational Career Academy: "It was boring."

Crayton, who is 17 and now a senior, said the daily drills "really didn’t do anything for me." He ended up with a 17 out of a possible 36 on the ACT and is unsure whether he’ll go to college.

That intense test prep has been the norm at many Chicago public high schools determined to increase student scores.

But a new study to be released today finds that kind of test prep does little to help. In fact, the study found the more schools do test prep during class, the worse students score on the test.

"Across the board, scores were lower in schools that emphasized more ACT prep," said Elaine Allensworth, lead author of the report by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research. "They are spending all this time and energy on work that doesn’t help their scores."

The findings may seem counterintuitive, but the researchers said what was important was not the frequency of the prep but actually teaching college-level skills throughout high school.

ACT Prep Work Gets Failing Grade

From High School to the Future: ACT Preparation--Too Much, Too Late

ability grouping in Singapore

The other key factor in preserving academic quality [during 17 years of declining SAT scores 1964-1980] was the practice of grouping students by ability in as many subjects as possible The contrast was stark: schools that had “severely declining test scores” had “moved determinedly toward heterogeneous grouping” (that is, mixed students of differing ability levels in the same classes), while the “schools who have maintained good SAT scores” tended “to prefer homogeneous grouping.”
The Other Crisis in American Education
by Daniel Singal

Singapore, a country whose students have consistently scored above most others in international assessments such as the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), credits ability grouping as one of the key factors in its students' academic success.

Cheri Pierson Yecke, conversations with Chan Jee Kun and Poon Chew Leng, officials with the Singapore Ministry of Education, September 9, 2002.
The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools p. 99

Addressing Equity: Curriculum Standards and Support For the Slower Mathematics Student

The topic structure in Singapore’s framework is efficient because topics are not taught and retaught as students move through the primary grades. Instead of repeating topics that students have already learned, teachers simply reintroduce them as a foundation on which to build new mathematical content. This practice, however, may not be suitable for students who have more difficulty with mathematics. The Singapore system recognizes that students who have trouble with mathematics may not attain mastery by following Singapore’s regular program of mathematics instruction and that these students may need special assistance to attain competence.

Beginning in grades 5 and 6, Singapore identifies its weaker students on the basis of a general examination of mathematics and language competency. These students receive special assistance and are taught according to a special fifth- and sixth-grade mathematics framework. This special framework mandates that students in the slower track
  • receive approximately 30 percent more mathematics instruction than students in the regular track, and
  • be exposed to the same mathematical content as students in the regular track, although at a slower pace.
The mathematics framework for students needing compensatory assistance adds review material to strengthen students’ understanding of previously taught content. For example, topics on numbers and geometry taught in grade 4 are repeated at a faster pace in grade 5. The introduction of some new concepts such as ratios, rates, and averages, which are normally introduced in grade 5, are delayed until grade 6 for the weaker students (Ministry of Education, 2001a). What is important, however, is that because slower students spend extra time studying mathematics, topics usually taught in grades 5 and 6 do not have to be completely sacrificed to make room for repetition.6

To support the framework for slower students, Singapore has developed a Learning Support Program to help educators identify these students and provide them with extra help (Ministry of Education 2003c). Mathematics Support Teachers (MST), who receive on-the-job supervision and specialized training to ensure that they are professionally competent, deliver compensatory assistance.

In the United States, we expect all students to meet the standards in state frameworks, but the standards do not help teachers address the needs of slower students. In fact, U.S. standards do not acknowledge that students learn at different rates. No Child Left Behind addresses the needs of failing schools, but it does not directly require that failing students receive help. Although some research evidence supports the belief that students benefit when the curriculum is adjusted to match their ability levels (Loveless, 1999), a distinct alternative curriculum would raise concerns in the United States about potential harm to students from ability grouping. Singapore’s approach differs from traditional ability grouping in that Singapore establishes a framework that requires students to master the same content as other students, not a watered-down curriculum as often happens in U.S. ability-grouped classrooms. Singapore also provides extra assistance from an expert teacher.

What the United States Can Learn from Singapore's World-Class Mathematics System (and what Singapore can learn from the United States): An Exploratory Study (pdf file)
American Institutes for Research

January 28, 2005
pp. 34-35

Same content, different speed, good teachers.

stagnation at the top - Fordham report
Tracking: Can It Benefit Low Achieving Children?
Linda Valli on tracking in 5 Catholic high schools, 1
Linda Valli on tracking in 5 Catholic high schools, 2
"school commitment" in Valli's study of tracking in Catholic high schools

7th grade depression starts in 1st grade

ability grouping in Singapore
characteristics of schools where SAT scores did not decline
The Other Crisis in American Education by Daniel Singal
Hiding in Plain Sight: grouping & the achievement gap
tracking: first random-assignment study

SAT equivalence tables
SAT I Individual Score Equivalents
SAT I Mean Score Equivalents

chickens have come home to roost
the deathless meme of the high performing school
Allison on the naturals