kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/1/08 - 6/8/08

Saturday, June 7, 2008

end brain-based education now

Paula V sparked my interest in reader Comments on the algebra-in-8th story.

Here we go again:

Here's the thing. According to Piaget, the formal operational stage doesn't even begin to develop until students are of high school age or even older for some. Oh, and formal operational means that a person can think abstractly. And the ability to think abstractly is important if you are going to learn algebra because algebra is all about abstraction. So what are we really teaching? If a child is not yet ready to think abstractly, are we really teaching anything or are we doing harm? We are asking students to learn things they are not ready to learn. How can that be good? Oh, and here's another thing, not everyone ever enters or completes the formal operational stage of development. So how much algebra will that person ever learn?
6/5/2008 6:22:50 PM
Its amazing that people are able to make statements like these without reference to actual living, breathing, math-learning (or not), flesh and blood children.

Supposing Piaget did say 8th graders can't learn algebra.....(did he?)....shouldn't we ask ourselves how it is exactly that 8th graders everywhere else on the planet are able to learn algebra while American kids are not?

How long ago was Piaget debunked, anyway?

News travels slow in the edu-world.

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.
National Math Panel Fact Sheet

this one's fun:

Welcome to America....where people are actually having a serious discussion about whether teaching kids advanced math as soon as possible is a bad thing. Is it any wonder our country lags behind in math/science?

and this one:

It's surprising to me that it pushing to take Algebra I in the 8th grade is thought of as acceleration and that some parents in Montgomery county are resisting it. My dad went to an inner city black school in a southern city in the 60's and he took algebra in the 8th grade and took calculus before he graduated high school. Yet, Algebra I wasn't available to me in the 8th grade in a rural school many years after integration, and I ended up having to double Algebra II and Geometry my sophomore year in high school in order to take Calculus. Somewhere along the line we slid backwards. None of this stuff is advanced math. Just the basics American students will need to be competitive on the world scale in Engineering and Science.

here we go, "freakshow stage parents" -- good one!

This all seems analogous to the freakshow stage parents who pressure their kids to succeed in spelling bees and beauty pageants so they can brag on their kids to their friends. Seriously, do any of you out there remember anything past Algebra II who aren't currently in an engineering field. I use high-end statistics daily and got very limited exposure to it until grad school. My thought, pipe down a bit on the rush to calculus...there is plenty of time for that in college; rather focus on stats since it seems like analyzing data has permeated into lots more fields than in the past. Performance indicators and measurement are the next trend in management and should receive more attention than calculus in my opinion. Many old school managers rarely used math to make decisions whereas now managers are responsible for developing systems and metrics which can quantitatively track progress toward stated goals and objectives.

reading right along.... another Piaget comment from a physics teacher, no less. I'm not cutting and pasting any more from JP.


Piaget has a lot to answer for.

from France:

I went to a French boarding school through 10th grade (troisieme in their parlance). Upon returning to the United States I spent two years reading French novels in the back of the class, raising my hand and going to the blackboard only when others couldn't solve problems being discussed in class. I didn't do any homework either, and graduated only because the teacher who announced a week before the end of my senior year that he was going to grade us 50% on the year's homework got called to a conference, and ended up grading us only on tests.

I can't see that allowing students to take more demanding courses is a bad thing.

Here's the one Paula quoted:

So Prince William county is slowing their kids to a crawl with Investigations while the neighboring counties are moving their kids ahead at a faster pace.
We really need a national math curriculum.

Slowed to a crawl. Yup.

The help-with-homework issue rears its ugly head:

Many decades ago, I minored in math. I can still use the stuff, too. But I work with lots of people educated in social science and humanities who can't deal with fractions or proportions, let alone scientific notation or long division of polynomials.

Given that these educated people are parents, what are the chances that the average parent will be qualified to help their kids with math homework in the grades?

I know the answer to that one.

Slim to none.


"Accelerated Math Adds Up To a Division Over Merits"

Yes, you're so right, I just think that Albert Einstein kid was a little too "smart for his britches" and should have been held back a couple of years!

That would have made it much fairer for the other students in his classes.

Another Stop Manic Moms and Dads! sentiment:

The issue here is not whether children should or shouldn't be in accelerated math programs, it's whether parents should be allowed to pressure teachers and administrators. Children should be placed based on performance only to prevent manic moms and dads from pushing their children beyond their level.

This is a big one around here.

For years we were told that the accelerated math class was filled with "kids who don't belong" and got in thanks to "pushy parents" etc.

That particular meme went splat after the district clamped down on the pushy parents and required all the kids to test into the class. The first placement test was Top Secret; the middle school refused to show a copy to the 4-5 teachers in order to prevent them from prepping their students. The goal was to cut kids from the track, not help kids get into it, so the grade school teachers had to be kept in the dark.

Lo and behold, the kids who tested in fair and square also had a he** of a time of it.

C. was one of them.

Moving right along:

american grade school math has always been a sad joke. Europeans learn algebra+geometry in 7th grade. I support accelerated math.
The advanced part isn't what is new, it is the quotas (80% of 8th graders are expected to be in Algebra) that are new.

Pushing the regular kids into advanced math is just as bad as keeping the advanced kids in regular math.

Why can't we just teach them what they are ready for? (because we don't have the time or money to teach individuals in our school system)

That's sure my beef.


Back in the 1950's I went through an accelerated math program like the one described here. The idea can't be all that new.
Things went downhill fast after the 1950s. See: The Race Between Education and Technology.

old chestnut:

I would forewarn the stories from Japan with their relatively high suicide rate of children from the pressure brought to bear on them to excel, mostly for the parents sake rather than the childs.

There isn't any higher teen suicide rate in Japan.

There is a higher teen suicide rate here. (see: Stigler, The Learning Gap)

"My wife is a teacher. Everyday, she sees pushy parents who insist that their kids are "gifted." It's a disgusting conceit on the part of loser parents who want to pretend that their failures can be fixed by their kids"

I think it works both ways. Teachers will hold truly gifted children back. My daughter was tagged as "gifted" through testing and I put her in an accelerated math program outside of school (loving it doing well too), but her school is refusing to commit to placing her in the high level math class. This is private school and they are control freaks. I'm thinking of putting her in public school where it sounds like she'll get more of an appropriate education.

And really, most parents want what's best for their child so your comment is rather inflammatory and I'm sure untrue.

Pushy parents! Holy moly, life would be good without pushy parents, for sure.

Having taught pupils of many nationalities and from widely varied backgrounds, I would affirm that children from the U.S.A. are extremely backward compared with others around the world, resulting in widespread adult ignorance. Some pushing along would certainly not come amiss!

Here's the full version of the pushy parent quote:

According to the article:
"I think parents of what I call above-average to gifted kids . . . were all saying, 'Our kids are bored,' " said Louise Epstein, a Fairfax mother and president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted.

My wife is a teacher. Everyday, she sees pushy parents who insist that their kids are "gifted." It's a disgusting conceit on the part of loser parents who want to pretend that their failures can be fixed by their kids.

Get a grip--suck it up. If your kid can hack it, all the better. I'm concerned that teachers, beaten down to nothing, will submit, merely to survive to the next paycheck.

I for one am not remotely concerned that teachers will "submit." They won't. History tells us this is true.

Will they feel beaten down & survive from one paycheck to the next? Yes. Algebra in 8th grade will, like everything else in the edu-world, be implemented from the top down with teachers being handed heterogeneous groups of kids half of whom won't remotely be ready to learn algebra. It will be a miserable experience.

That's not because of pushy parents.

That's because of pushy administrators.

Pushy parents have even less control over the administrative practices of public schools than teachers do.
Grade level math might be better termed decelerated math. I remember 4th-7th grade math as utterly boring and repetitive. Algebra got me interested again--in the 8th grade. I would have enjoyed an earlier shot at it.

and, last word:

Isn't there time in high school for advanced math? I don't remember doing much algebra in grade school (grades 1-8), but in my prep school we were required to take algebra I, algebra II, geometry, trigonometry, calculus I, and calculus II. In other words, I was always in a math course, all the way through high school. I didn't like any of it, but I had no choice.

Still, I guess it was good for me, as I could always count on a 99th percentile score in any standardized test I took. SAT, GMAT, etc. Isn't that good enough?

I say let the parents/kids chose, at least for the grade school kids.

the Great Compression

from The Race between Education and Technology:

[I]nequality decreased in the 1940s and the reductions were substantial. The narrowing of the wage structure during the 1940s has been termed the "Great Compression." It involved a world war, inflation, tight labor markets, rising union strength, and substantial government intervention in the labor market.
p. 54
the Great Compression, part 2

The book is riveting.

A page-turner.

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"

Thursday, June 5, 2008

algebra in 8th

I first got going with all this math folderol when I discovered, in the pages of Wayne Wickelgren's Math Coach, that algebra-in-8th-grade is standard in Europe and Asia. That was a revelation. I had thought algebra-in-9th-grade was the natural order of things, if I thought about it at all. Which I didn't.

I had no idea algebra-in-8th meant no-calculus-in-9th, a fact my district did not call to my attention when they tracked C. into "Phase 3" math back in the 3rd grade.

Fortunately, I figured it out for myself in June 2004.

Here we are, 4 years later, and C. is completing algebra in 8th grade, many thanks to all you ktm regulars. (How do kids who don't have blog collectives helping them with homework do it?)

Meanwhile, the rest of the country is waking up to the fact that American kids are on the slow-track algebra-wise, thanks in part to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel report, which states bluntly that: More students should be prepared for and offered an authentic algebra course at Grade 8.

Apparently, there are school districts out there taking this injunction seriously:
The notion that students can master high school algebra before high school is relatively new, said Francis "Skip" Fennell, an education professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., who is past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The share of students completing the course in middle school nationwide has gone from next to nothing a generation ago to about 25 percent in the late 1990s to about 40 percent today.*
In my district (per pupil funding $25,000), the figure stands at approximately 30%, and it would be far lower if the district had its way. When C. was in 5th grade, the middle school succeeded in whittling enrollment down from the approximately 35% who were taking it at that time to today's 30%. The next fall, when C. entered 6th grade, the middle school principal told Ed and me he hoped to get rid of the accelerated course altogether; last year the new middle school principal tried to scuttle it but failed.

The district was successful in slowing the progress of kids in grades K-5. Math Trailblazers came in and acceleration went out. Gifted children were particularly hard hit. The accelerated track was gone and the regular track was far slower than it had been. Trailblazers teaches many topics a full year later than they had been taught prior to the Trailblazers era.

If this WAPO story
is accurate, affluent American kids are "thriving" in the international track, while poor and minority students are having a harder time of it. Somebody should talk to KIPP, where 80% of 8th graders pass Regents Math A.

I read a story like this and feel as if I'm living in a bubble. Elsewhere in the country, at least some school districts are working to move teachers and students onto the international track. Here, with per pupil spending rising to $25,000 and median household income somewhere in the neighborhood of $100K, putting students on par with their peers in Europe and Asia isn't even a topic for discussion.

Instead, it's the middle school model; it's character education; it's Project Lead the Way.

* How many of these courses are authentic algebra, it's hard to know.

4th grade slump, sight words, spelling

There is a new presentation available from Dolores Hiskes. Her book is one of the better phonics books out there.

This presentation includes on page 3 information about the "4th grade slump," on page 20 about teaching spelling, and on page 24 about sight words, including this statement, "Activity in one hemisphere suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region on the other side," [From The Mind And The Brain, Schwartz & Begley] which seems to agree with my theory of sight word overshadowing.

You can download her presentation here, it is titled "The Comprehension Dilema."

There are also interesting tidbits throughout about phonics and math.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One-room schools

One-Room Schools and synchronicity:

1. At a recent homeschool convention, Andrew Pudewa, an engaging speaker with many interesting ideas about writing and thinking and education, talked about the excitement and excellence generated in what he calls "Mixed-Age" classrooms. You can read his thoughts about this and other things he's thought about on his website.

2. I read an interesting article which I commented on about One-Room Schools in Pajamas Media.

3. I was re-reading Irene Hunt's "Up a Road Slowly" and found she lamented both the demise of one-room schools and History and Geography as social studies.

Of course, our phonics website features pictures of One-Room Schoolhouses and states, "welcome to our virtual schoolhouse," so I might just be noticing the topic, but it is a little strange.

While I do like a lot of things from the past, especially education things lacking today like handwriting, Webster's Speller, Latin, math with real answers, and One-Room Schoolhouses, reading Susan Strasser's "Never Done: A History of American Housework" cured me of any lingering desire to live in the era of one-room schools. She lays out in excruciating detail what they had to to to cook and clean and keep their houses running, and the time spent each week lugging water and cleaning lamps (7 hours per week cleaning oil lamps!) I'll take my computer and my dishwasher and running water any day.

I would have enjoyed helping out younger students when I was in school, and I don't think it would have hurt my education at all. In fact, the class I learned the most in in college was one where the students taught. Our teacher had pregnancy complications that prevented her from standing, so she sat in the back while 10 of us (it was a small senior level micro-biology class) took turns teaching. We all tried to do a good job and have good notes so studying for the test would be easier. I was amazed at how hard I had to work to do a good job teaching a 1 hour class. She would occasionally pipe up with something we missed, but she generally just sat back and watched. I learned a lot more from learning at the level required to teach someone else than when just sitting back and listening. Plus, a lot more good teachers could find their calling this way--and perhaps even more importantly, some poor teachers could find out they weren't cut out to teach.

Congressman Miller comes up with a plan to subvert historical thinking through interdisciplinary teaching

Barry attended the House Committee on Education and Labor hearing on the National Mathematics Advisory Committee report on May 21, 2008.

Not much to cheer about, it seems.
Math coaches, technology, interdisciplinary studies.... and Project Lead the Way:
Another crowd pleasing testimony came from Dr. Wanda Talley Staggers, Dean of Manufacturing and Engineering, Anderson School District Five, Anderson, South Carolina. She is involved in a program called "Project Lead the Way™". Pardon my cynicism but it's hard for me to not notice the trademark symbol after the title. This program provides pre-engineering type classes in middle and high school that can only be taught by teachers who have been certified by this trademarked program trains such teachers, and testified that "After six years of training high school teachers during the Project Lead The Way™ Summer Training Institutes across the nation, I have heard overwhelmingly from teachers that they come away from the experience with a rejuvenated interest in teaching."

Maybe so, but the key is whether the students in Project-Lead-the Way™ courses will learn any math or simply be entertained.The program is based on the premise that students don't take a lot of math because it's too removed from the real world.The solution? Hands-on project-based courses that involve the students.In order to take such classes, however, they must be enrolled in regular math classes—thus a carrot and stick approach. The program has not been field-tested or validated, and is too young to have data showing whether this strategy is likely to work.Plus problem-based learning, tends to be rather discovery-heavy despite teachers' best and stated intentions that they use a "balanced" approach—the type of balance where someone's finger is on the scale.

Chairman Miller (D-CA) saw the value of this type of program and made a leap from math connecting to applications of math, to math connecting with everything.He rhapsodized about a school he saw in Oregon that became a math academy through an interdisciplinary approach.All courses were interrelated—students had to understand the mathematics of history: distances between cities, depth of the oceans.

I ran that one by Ed, a person who is, by profession, an actual historian as opposed to a Congressman. Paraphrasing: Ed says that measuring the distance between cities in a history course defeats the purpose of history because throughout most of history distance is relative to technology. For example, the distance
from Marseilles to Alexandria is 1500 miles; the distance between Marseilles and Paris is 400 miles. But in the ancient world in the Middle Ages, Marseilles was for all intents and purposes much closer to Alexandria because of the ease of shipping in the Mediterranean and also because, culturally, until fairly recently the Mediterranean ports had more in common with each other than Marseilles did with Paris. Marseilles wasn't integrated into the French kingdom until the late Middle Ages. There were no decent roads from the Mediterranean parts of France to Paris. It was an incredibly arduous trip. But it was relatively easy to get from Marseilles to Egypt. The Mediterranean Sea was protected from storms and bad weather, and it was fairly rare for a ship to be lost at sea in the Mediterranean.

Or take the words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

It took 6 months for these words to travel from the center of Africa to the nearest telegraph station. From there, it was only a matter of hours until these words had traveled to all parts of the world linked by telegraph.

To have students in a history course "calculate" the physical distance between cities is to willfully have students overlook the cultural and technological factors that make distance meaningful. It's not just a waste of time, it undermines and subverts historical thinking; It is the opposite of historical thinking. It is harmful.

a plea for better instruction in cursive handwriting

This man makes an excellent point.

While I'm on the subject of lousy instruction in cursive handwriting, I like this remedial handwriting program very much:

I tried it one summer with C. and me. Didn't manage to get through it, though my own handwriting improved quite a lot.

Maybe I'll get back to it one of these days.

Ed had an email from an old friend in France asking why it is that parents all over the Western world are locked in a permanent struggle to get schools to teach their children the fundamentals.

Good question.

Monday, June 2, 2008

best virals of the web

I had seen 3 of these.

Is that good or bad?

general knowledge and ability & teacher effectiveness

Concerned Teacher's post on the academic math slums reminded me that I'd just come across this summary of the relationship between teacher effectiveness and general cognitive ability last week:

General knowledge and ability

The most robust finding in the research literature is the effect of teacher verbal and cognitive ability on student achievement. Every study that has included a valid measure of teacher verbal or cognitive ability has found that it accounts for more variance in student achievement than any other measured characteristic of teachers (e.g., Greenwald, Hedges, & Lane, 1996; Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Kain & Singleton, 1996; Ehrenberg & Brewer, 1994).

This is troubling when joined with the finding that college students majoring in education have lower SAT and ACT scores than students majoring in the arts and sciences. For example, among college graduates who majored in education, 14% had SAT or ACT scores in the top quartile, compared to 26% who majored in the social sciences, compared to 37% who majored mathematics/computer science/natural science. In addition, those who did not prepare to teach but became teachers were much more likely to have scored in the top quartile (35 percent) than those who prepared to teach and became teachers (14 percent) (NCES, 2001).

Research on Teacher Preparation and Development
Grover J. Whitehurst, Ph.D.

My favorite part of this graphic is the lavender bar representing the effects on academic achievement of "workshops."

I will derive

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Academic (Math) Slums

Economist Walter Williams weighs in on the academic atrocity also known as 'fuzzy math':

American education will never be improved until we address one of the problems seen as too delicate to discuss. That problem is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have graduated with an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admissions tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. As such, they are home to the least able students and professors with the lowest academic respect. Were we serious about efforts to improve public education, one of the first things we would do is eliminate schools of education.

The inability to think critically makes educationists fall easy easy prey to harebrained schemes, and what's worse, they don't have the intelligence to recognize that the harebrained scheme isn't working. Just one of many examples is the use of fuzzy math teaching techniques found in "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers." Among its topics: "Sweatshop Accounting," "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." The latter contains discussions on racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism.

If you have a fifth-grader, his textbook might be "Everyday Math." Among its study questions are: If math were a color, it would be —, (blank) because —. (blank). If it were a food, it would be —, (blank) because —. (blank). If it were weather, it would be —, (blank) because —. (blank). All of this is sheer nonsense, and what's worse is that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics sponsors and supports much of this nonsense.

Mathematics, more than any other subject, is culturally neutral. The square root of 16 is 4 whether you're an Asian, European, or African, or even a Plutonian or Martian. While math and science literacy among white 15-year-olds is nothing to write home about, that among black 15-year-olds is nothing less than a disaster.

Few people appreciate the implications of poor math preparation. Mathematics, more than anything else, teaches one how to think logically. As such, it is an important intellectual tool. If one graduates from high school with little or no preparation in algebra, geometry and a bit of trigonometry, he is likely to find whole areas of academic study, as well as the highest paying jobs, hermetically sealed off from him for his entire life.

You can read the entire article here. For those interested, Williams has a number of syndicated columns over the past few years that are quite critical of the declining 'educational' departments in American universities.

revenge of the C student

from Education Week

Robert J. Sternberg often writes about a lecture-style psychology course he took as a college freshman in which he got a C. “There is a famous Sternberg in psychology,” the professor told him at the time, “and it looks like there won’t be another.”

To Mr. Sternberg, the vignette illustrates that conventional assessments don’t measure all the abilities students need to succeed in life.

A nationally known psychologist, he has spent much of his career designing new measures that might more accurately capture the full range of students’ intellectual potential at the university level.

Now, a team of Yale University researchers is using the same ideas to rethink the tests that schools use to identify pupils for gifted and talented programs in elementary schools.

The team’s Aurora Battery, named for the colorful spectrums created by the northern and southern lights, is being translated and tested with tens of thousands of 9- to 12-year-olds, not only in the United States, but also in England, India, Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and other countries.

If the preliminary results from those tests are borne out, its developers say, the new assessment could yield a very different pool of gifted students—one that includes a higher proportion of students from traditionally underrepresented minority groups than is often the case now.


“This test has the potential to capture a more diverse population of students with a more varied and better-qualified array of skills,” said Elena L. Grigorenko, a psychology professor and the leader of the Yale study team in New Haven, Conn.


Traditional intelligence tests, these researchers say, measure only a narrow subset: memory and analytical skills. Also known as “g” for general intellectual ability, those skills come in handy for comparing and contrasting, analyzing, judging, and classifying, and they are the kinds of abilities that teachers tend to value and emphasize in the classroom.

If people who score high on such measures succeed later on in life—and studies show that they often do—it’s partly because the educational system is geared to reward their particular mental skills, Mr. Sternberg said.

Someone should alert Robert Sternberg to the fact that this problem has been solved. Once you've got Connected Math, block scheduling, and portfolio assessment the kids who got straight-As back in the day become reliable B students.

Implement the middle school model in your town et voilĂ . IQ gap gone.

In its entirety, Aurora is a comprehensive battery that includes a group-administered paper-and-pencil test, a parent interview, a scale for teacher rating of students, and some observation items. The paper-and-pencil test gauges creativity, for instance, by asking students to imagine what objects might say to one another if they could talk, or to generate a story plot to fit an abstract illustration on a children’s-book cover.

A question assessing students’ practical skills with numbers directs test-takers to draw a line mapping the shortest route between a friend’s house and a movie theater.

Ideas of Practical and Creative IQ Underlie New Tests of Giftedness
by Debra Viadero
Education Week
Vol. 27, Issue 38, Pages 1,16

At last!

A standardized test that can tell me whether any of my kids has the sense it takes to come in out of the rain.

Seeing as how our family motto is no common sense-y, I'm guessing no.

data loops and other strange beasts

from Education Week:

Whether schools will know how to make use of data collected through value-added statistical techniques is an open question, however.

Daniel F. McCaffrey, a senior statistician in the Pittsburgh office of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based RAND Corp., studied 32 Pennsylvania school districts taking part in the first wave of a state pilot program aimed at providing districts with value-added student-achievement data in mathematics.

He and his research colleagues surveyed principals, other administrators, teachers, and parents in the districts involved in the program and compared their responses with those from other districts having similar demographic characteristics.

“We found it was really having no effect relative to the comparison districts,” Mr. McCaffrey said.

Even though educators, for instance, seemed to like the data they were getting and viewed the information as useful, few were doing anything with the results, he said. Twenty percent of the principals didn’t know they were participating in the study, Mr. McCaffrey said, noting also that the program was still young at that point in the evaluation process.

Despite such challenges, other speakers at the conference argued that the use of value-added methodology should become more widespread. Said Robert Gordon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank: “The way we will learn about implementation problems, I think, is to implement.”

New Uses Explored for ‘Value Added’ Data
by Debra Viadero
May 28, 2008

Oh yes, I agree. There is much to be learned from implementations of all types. One after another. Implementation upon implementation upon implementation.

Implementation is the path to enlightenment.

data-driven loops & noise

a KIPP parent describes her daughter's school

by April McCaffrey

I am now a proud parent of a KIPPster and straight-A student. I am more involved in my daughter’s school than I ever have been before. KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, understands how to truly work together as a team, and the program emphasizes the capabilities of our children.


I knew right away that KIPP was right for us. Within 3 weeks, I saw a difference in my daughter, Sylvia. Prior to KIPP, she’d been an average student. She was a slow in understanding math concepts and not a great test-taker. I was forever frustrated by her old school’s fast pace and was told that Sylvia needed to learn much more quickly. Although she would score 100% on reading comprehension, the number of words Sylvia could read per minute was below average. I had a difficult time prioritizing the speed over understanding. Sylvia found relief from her difficulties with fractions only when the class moved on to another subject. The schools were so focused on end-of-the-year standardized testing that my sensitive daughter began losing sleep with worry. She was tired, stressed, and felt inadequate.

KIPP has changed how Sylvia feels about school and her ability to succeed by using a variety of learning methods including:

Longer school days. KIPP students begin school at 7:25 AM, and are released at 5 PM Monday through Thursday, with a half-day on Friday. Although that may seem like a long day, the additional time is a benefit to all. The teachers have more time to spend teaching their subjects, the students do not lose lunch or recess, and the extra-curricular activities, such as P.E., Technology, Art, and Music, are built into the curriculum.

Longer school year. KIPP students have 3 weeks of summer school. The teachers use that time to assess the students and divide them into classes according to their skill level.

It had never occurred to me that part of the reason for the long day wasn't (always) to catch kids up, but to give kids more time to learn --- !

And note: homogeneous grouping.

What Is A "Private School"? -- Segmenting The Market

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 "private school" universe should be properly segmented:

What makes an independent school different from a private school? All independent schools, to deserve the name, must be not-for-profit. All independent schools are governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees. The role of the board is to:

  • Establish the school's mission

  • Safeguard the mission

  • Manage the school and its assets for future generations.

(more on governance in a future post)

That's not to say that a for-profit enterprise can't be good. It is just different.

The Council for American Private Education (CAPE)is an association of associations. It has a page outlining all the different types of schools that make up the CAPE landscape. The mission statement for CAPE follows:

Our nation is blessed by a rich diversity of private schools -- some rooted in religious traditions, some that provide intensive academic experiences, some that reflect a particular pedagogy, and some that are specialized for specific populations. These diverse schools and strong, often faith-based, communities help fulfill the American ideal of educational pluralism and collectively contribute to the common good.

One of the associations that make up CAPE is The National Independent Private Schools Association, an association of for-profit (proprietary) elementary through high school institutions.

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.


*Some people make the case that a Waldorf school is actually a religious school
system hiding behind a facade of progressive, arts-based education.

Independent School Governance 101

In the post What Is A Private School: Segmenting the Market, I promised more about governance in an independent school. I was prompted to do so by the post
A private public school, or a public private school?, The Crimson Avenger asks some questions about governance:

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?
The Crimson Avenger was responding to Allison's May 12 comment,

I'd like to add what I know about not-for-profit schools' governance. (A version of this post was written in response to the abrupt closure of a for-profit chain of specialty schools, CEDU. You can read the whole sorry CEDU story here)

How are for-profit schools different than not-for-profit schools? What's the difference between an independent school and a proprietary school?

Some of the features of independent schools are similar to public schools, some are different.


All California schools, public and private, that want to be accredited undergo a multi-year evaluation process administered by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). I bs.

Association Membership—
There are several regional and national associations of independent schools. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS) are the four most important to the CEDU groups. The CEDU schools were not a member of these groups.

Governance—Most independent schools are governed by its Board of Directors, who are all unpaid volunteers dedicated to the school. NAIS publishes several handbooks and resources to guide independent school trustees in their work; all of the following is drawn from those sources.

Many schools use “Directors” and “Trustees” interchangeably, so the “Board of Directors” or the “Board of Trustees” means the same body. The Board is the legal governing body of most non-profit organizations. While the Board is not the owner, it holds the non-profit corporation, its assets, liabilities, and mission, in trust for the public. In the case of schools, for parents, students, future students, and the community at large.

The Board of Trustees of any independent school has nine basic roles:
  1. The Board defines the mission of the school and clarifies its philosophy

  2. The Board establishes or affirms policies within which the mission can be fulfilled. These policies govern the day-to-day operation of the school in all areas of board concern: legal issues, financial matters, definition of additional authorized programs that the school will offer (e.g. summer camp, child care, etc.)

  3. The board is accountable for the financial well-being of the school, including capital assets, operating budgets, fund-raising, and endowment.

  4. The Board selects a Head to administer the School, and, having appointed him/her, they provide support and formal periodic evaluation of his/her performance.

  5. Working through the Head, they ensure that all laws and regulations are being followed, and that day-to-day operations are consistent with Board policy and the school’s Mission and philosophy.

  6. Working with the Head and representatives of the School's constituency groups (staff, parents, alumni, friends of the School), they take the leadership role in a process of on-going strategic planning and self-study. They formally adopt from time-to-time long-range plans and provide a structure for their implementation.

  7. The Board assumes a key role in fund raising for the school.

  8. The Board serves as ambassadors for the school, promoting its good name and letting the public and constituency groups know about its success stories.

  9. The Board guards the privacy and confidentiality of the matters they decide.

A strong and healthy Board of Trustees does not:

  1. Attempt to manage the day-to-day operations of a school themselves. A healthy board has exactly one employee: the Head of School. This means among other things that any individual Board Member has exactly zero input into admissions decisions, hiring and firing decisions, any disciplinary actions the Head or the faculty may take and so on.

  2. Interfere with the Head's job of managing the staff. This means if someone (say a faculty member) comes to a Board Member with a complaint about another faculty member, the Board Member’s duty is to direct the complainant to the Head of School.

  3. Attempt to evaluate the educational program. While individual Board members may have some expertise in educational or administrative matters, the Board as a whole is has delegated the educational program to the head. The Board defines the kind of school it wants, and hires the Head to turn the dream into reality. The Head hires and supervises the staff that actually works with the students.

  4. Criticize the school, its programs, its faculty, or its leadership structure outside of Board meetings.

  5. Break the confidentiality of the Board decision-making process.

How do boards decide if a matter brought before them is an issue appropriate to themselves, or should be dealt with by the administration?

Board issue Administrative/staff issue
This issue affects the entire organization (example: how much financial aid to allow for in budget)This issue affects only individuals (example: which student gets how much financial aid)
This issue establishes new policy. (example: deciding to add a program such as summer enrichment)This issue is an implementation of policy (example: planning this year’s summer enrichment program)
This is an issue dictated by law (example: nondiscrimination policy) This is an issue not dictated by law (example: uniform-wearing policy)
This issue is brought to the Board by the administration (example: administration requests board develop a policy on appropriate use of a new technology )

Board membership criteria: traditional vs. new

There are two phrases that used to be popular to describe service on any non-profit board: “Give, Get, or Git”—give money generously, get other people to give generously, or get off the board—and “Choose Board Members who have two of three Ws: Wealth, Wisdom, or Work.”

The new adage is that independent schools need the 3 Rs: those who can (beyond their specific expertise) contribute significantly in Raising students, Raising image, and Raising money.

What Board service entails:
Most independent school expect Board Members to give generously in several different areas.
Giving of Time: The Board plans for itself general business meetings, informational meetings, and one or more “retreats”, focused on a single issue. Trustees are also expected to attend important school events such as graduation. The average number of hours per month varies on the individual trustee, but certainly an average of eight hours per month is a conservative estimate.

Giving of Money: Every trustee is expected to make a generous annual donation to the school, according to his or her individual financial circumstances. In some instances, that may mean giving $100 per year; for others, which may mean over $100,000 per year. Also, every trustee is expected to help in fundraising by encouraging other people to give money or time to the school.

Giving of Support: Every trustee is expected, outside of the Board meetings, to speak only of the school’s strengths and hopes. The discussion of weaknesses and disappointments is reserved for discussions between Board members.

Giving of Confidentiality: Every trustee is expected to keep board matters and discussions confidential.

How does somebody get to be on a Board of Directors?
Almost all independent schools have "self-perpetuating" boards. That is, the Board finds new members for itself, through a strategic screening and selection process.

What the bylaws say about board service:
Most schools are governed by a legal document, the bylaws, which are written and adopted by the founding board. As the school matures, the bylaws are amended. Most schools specify a minimum and maximum number of directors, the duration of their terms of service, and how many terms they may serve consecutively. Many independent schools have other limitations, such as restricting the number of current parents who may serve. Almost all schools specify that trustees serve as volunteers, without being paid for their time or services.

There are advantages and disadvantages for any independent school to having current parents in the majority on the board. In general, the disadvantage is that current parents are naturally very concerned with the school as it is today or this year, while the true role of the board of trustees should be focusing on the school as it will be in the next decade. The National Association of Independent Schools suggests that a healthy board consist of less than 60% current parents.

The Board Recruitment process:

Healthy independent schools have a process whereby the Board:

  • Identifies what skills and strengths are represented on the board currently
  • Identifies what skills and strengths will be needed in coming years
  • Identifies people who are already committed to the school who will meet the school’s needs
  • Identifies people in the community who are not yet familiar with the school, but who meet its needs, and take steps to make the school attractive as a volunteer opportunity.
The group within the board responsible for board recruitment then selects a “short list” of people that would be good board candidates, and finds out if they are ready, willing and able to serve. From that “short list”, a slate is presented to the whole Board for election to the Board. The election is usually unanimous. The election of new board members typically takes place at the Annual Meeting, in the spring.

Mathematically Sane's review of the NMP Report

For fans of Mathematically Sane, here is their review of the National Math Panel report. My editorial comments are in green. They are not meant to intrude but to "enhance" your reading experience.

Friday, March 21, 2008
Really Says it ALL!
Presidential Math Panel Vows to Increase Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 5:17 AM
Gary Stager

In the last year of his term, the President of the United States and theDepartment of Education are now trying to do for math what they did for reading. The notable achievements of Reading First include massive fraud, profiteering, junk science, federal control over classroom practice, fear and hysteria. [Ed: They also found unprecedented success in school districts that had been written off by many.] While the National Reading Panel was stacked with ideologues sharing the same educational philosophy, the National Math Panel co-opted the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) by appointing the organization’s President to serve on the committee.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, never known for its radicalism, swung hard towards “the basics” last year in its Curriculum Focal Points and now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having to disagree with NCTM’s President and the President of the United States. “Skip” Fennell did neither his members nor millions of American schoolkids any favors by participating in this unnecessary process. These federal education expeditions seek to narrow both the range of content and pedagogy permissible in public schools. The private and religious schools the GOP wants to support with taxpayer-funded vouchers are immune from these intrusions. The one-size-fits-all prescriptions for what ails public education are justified by claiming that schemes are research-based. [Ed; "Research-based". Where have I heard that before? Aren't Everyday Math and Investigations "research-based"?]

The rigid definition of “scientific evidence” enforced by Department of Education may be fine in testing remedies for restless leg syndrome, but is ill-suited for the complexities of education. [Ed: Such reasoning may explain why teachers believe that teaching algorithms in the lower grades is harmful to such students]. But hey, these are the folks who have mangled the English language to imply that theory is merely an unproven guess.

There is a lot wrong with the recent math report, but making Algebra the holy grail of K-8 mathematics is wrong-headed and goes unquestioned. Stressing the importance of fractions as critical prerequisites forAlgebra adds insult to injury. In a world-class display of side-splitting math teacher humor, panel member Frances “Skip” Fennell told the New York Times , “Just as“plastics” was the catchword in the 1967 movie The Graduate, the catchword for math teachers today should be ‘fractions.’“ What Fennell doesn’t realize is that the person who said, “Plastics,” in The Graduate was emblematic of everything wrong with society. “Plastics,” was a metaphor for a shallow, superficial, inauthentic culture focused onthe wrong values. The National Math Advisory Panel’s greater focus on fractions represents a “plastic” version of mathematics that will do more harm than good.

It’s easy to see how someone might think that several years worth of fraction study prepares a child for Algebra. Fractions have numerators over denominators, separated by a horizontal line. Many algebraic equations have something over something else, also separated by a line.That’s all you need to know. Right? [ Um, uh...]Not only is the progression from arithmetic manipulation of fractions to Algebra tenuous, but neither of the assumptions underlying the value of teaching fractions or Algebra are ever questioned. [Uhh, well, they did discuss that at the very first meeting. Were you not there, or did you not read the transcript?] The President’s Math Panel, like most of the math education community maintains a Kabbalah-like belief in an antiquated scope and sequence. [Ed: A scope and sequence which managed to be successful for a great many people despite claims to the contrary in Mathematically Sane and other places] Such curricular superstition fuels a multigenerational feud in which educators fight over who has the best trick for forcing kids to learn something useless, irrelevant or unpleasant.

Despite the remarkable statement in the 1989 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards, “Fifty percent of all mathematics has beeninvented since World War Two,” the NCTM has been in full retreat ever since. [Ed: Not everyone remains outwitted by stupidity.] Although much of this “new” mathematics is playful, practical, beautiful or capable of being visualized via the computer, little new content has made its way into the curriculum. [Ed. Well at last we agree. There is little to no content at all in NSF-funded programs like Investigations, Math Trailblazers, CMP, and others.] Against this backdrop of unimaginative heuristics and a leadership vacuum, math class has become increasingly torturous for too many students.

Children who struggle to manipulate fractions do so because the skills are taught absent a meaningful context in a culture where fractions are rarely ever used. [Ed: Rational numbers are fast becoming passe as well.] Fraction fans might argue that fractions are important in following a recipe, but little cooking is done during fraction instruction. Even if kids did get to learn fractions by cooking, they might add, subtract or even multiply fractions, but one hardly ever divides fractions. The fact that there are four arithmetic functions doesn’t justify drilling kids for several grade levels. [Ed: Hats off to you, Mr. Stagers. Just when I think you can't outdo yourself, you do!] I wonder how many members of the Presidential panel can coherently explain how division of fractions works beyond repeating the trick – multiply the first fraction by the reciprocal of the second fraction? [Ed: Can't give you an exact number but I believe Wilfried Schmid, Hung-Hsi Wu, Vern Williams, Tom Loveless, Sandra Stotsky, and Liping Ma can do so. Maybe Deborah Ball. Not sure about Skip Fennel.]

The Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel does not dispute that teachers spend lots of time teaching fractions. The report merely urges that teachers do even more of the same while hoping for a different result. A definition of insanity comes to mind. It would be bad enough if wasted time was the only consequence of the fanatical fraction focus, but too many students get the idea that they can’t do math. This damages their inclination towards learning other forms of mathematics. Given the importance of mathematics and the widespread mathphobia sweeping the land, students can ill afford to a diminution in their self-image as capable mathematicians. Educators should not be complicit in creating learning disabilities regardless of what the President or his friends say. [Ed: I guess this means you won't be voting for George W. Bush again any time soon!]