kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/6/08 - 7/13/08

Saturday, July 12, 2008

state standards report card

Which States Have World-Class Standards and Which Do Not

New York gets a C+.

8th grade standards in reading are declining, which makes sense, I think. I remember reading a while back that 8th grade standards were the only "hard" standards, which I know is the case here in New York. The former assistant superintendent told parents that the reason our 8th graders weren't doing well on the 8th grade ELA test was that the test was "unnecessarily difficult."

You can probably see the 8th grade jump in difficulty for the top states here. The 4th grade tests get lower grades than the 8th grade tests.

Prior to NCLB being enacted, states were required to test students in the 4th & 8th grades. There were no penalties for students failing these tests, which were strictly informational.

I assume that once NCLB was passed states in some way "kept" their old 4th and 8th grade tests, while writing new tests for the rest of the grades. The problem was that NCLB testing was high stakes; there were consequences attached.

So the 8th grade tests are being brought in line with the easier NCLB-era tests.

That's my suspicion, at any rate.

authoritative parenting and smoking

Background: Research on adolescent cigarette smoking has attempted to measure the role of parents in preventing smoking experimentation and uptake. However, aspects of parental influence have often been limited to parental smoking behavior or antismoking socialization. Only a limited number of studies considered the hypothesis that the influence of parenting on adolescent current cigarette smoking may extend beyond parental behavior and antismoking socialization to consider broader measures of the parent–child relationship, such as parenting style.


Results: Authoritative parenting was associated with a reduction in the odds of adolescent current cigarette smoking...

Discussion: Interventions may want to educate parents about authoritative parenting, which includes the importance of having appropriate and routine conversations with their children, requiring chores, and implementing general rules and boundaries.

Understanding the Association Between Authoritative Parenting and Adolescent Smoking

Friday, July 11, 2008


Ed had a blinding revelation yesterday morning.

I'd gotten out Laurence Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom, which I hadn't looked at in several years, and was reading his descriptions of authoritative versus permissive parents of teens. That section hadn't left much of an impression on me 4 years ago. More on that anon.

Authoritative parents are:
  • High on warmth and acceptance
  • High on firmness: Parents who are high on this dimension have clearly articulated the rules that the child is expected to follow, and they make demands on the child to behave in a mature and responsible fashion. Children raised in this way know what their parents expect of them and know that there are consequences for violating their expectations. (p. 107)
  • High on "autonomy support": Parents who are high in support for psychological autonomy solicit their child’s opinions, encourage their child to express himself or herself, and, in adolescence, enjoy watching their child develop into a separate and autonomous individual. Children who grow up with parents who are high in autonomy support feel that self-expression is a valued trait, that their parents’ love and respect for them is not contingent on their having the same opinions and ideas as their parents, and that it is important for a person to speak up for what he or she believes. (p. 107)

Permissive parents are:
  • High on warmth & acceptance
  • Low on firmness
  • High on autonomy support

When you put these things together you get a familiar pattern.
Permissive parents ... view their main responsibility as [1] making sure that their child is happy and that his or her needs are gratified.... [P]ermissive parents believe that children are basically good, and that parents should support children in their natural inclinations. Permissive parents are not there to control the child, but to [2] facilitate growth by staying out of the way as much as possible. In fact, these parents [3] worry about the risk of excessive control—that the child’s creativity, curiosity, and inquisitiveness will be stifled by too much emphasis on authority. The acknowledge that children can make bad choices, but [4] they believe that the beneficial learning that takes place as a result of making mistakes outweighs the negative consequences of these errors. [numbers added] (p. 113)

Ed listened to that paragraph and said, "That's the schools."

It is.

Permissive parenting = discovery learning in the home.

The permissive parent focuses on emotion, facilitates growth by staying out of the way, frowns on parent "over-involvement," and believes that children need to make their own decisions and discover the consequences. This includes decisions about whether to drink, use drugs, and do homework.

The authoritative parent thinks all of this is hooey.
The authoritative parent thinks all of this is hooey because the authoritative parent believes in instruction. The authoritative parent is a natural-born instructivist; he (or she) possesses knowledge he intends to spend his parenting years conveying to his children.

What the authoritative parent does not believe in is allowing his child to learn hard lessons via trial and error (hands-on!). You will never hear an authoritative parent suggest that it's good for children to be allowed to make bad decisions so they can discover that bad decisions are bad by living with the results.

This is why the reading wars and the math wars and the edu-wars in general are about so much "more" than just a reading war or a math war or an edu-war in general. The schools are in loco parentis, but the parenting "style" in so many of them is wildly wrong for authoritative parents (not to mention authoritarian parents, but that's another story). If you're an authoritative parent sending a child to a school led by permissive and/or authoritarian educators -- we've experienced both -- you're going to feel that not only is your child being badly taught, he's being badly parented, too.

Meanwhile, permissive white parents* believe the same things progressive educators do:
  • Learning is personal and emotional
  • Learning is "growth"
  • Learning is natural; the grownup's role is to facilitate by staying out of the way
  • Parental over-involvement is common and destructive
  • Parents shouldn't run interference with the school on their children's behalf; parents should allow their children to "self-advocate"
And so on.

There's no way to reconcile these positions. Authoritative parents want authoritative teachers. Permissive parents want progressive educators. Never the twain shall meet.

Of course, given the reality of the standards movement and No Child Left Behind, it seems likely that neither group is getting what they want.

It's not relative....
Since the late 1950s, literally hundreds of studies have been conducted that examine acceptance, firmness, and autonomy support and their consequences for the child’s development. The gist of these studies has been remarkably consistent: children develop in more healthy ways when their parents are relatively more accepting, relatively firmer, and relatively more supportive of the child’s developing sense of autonomy.


The consistency with which findings on the benefits to children of acceptance, firmness, and autonomy support have appeared in research studies is really quite remarkable, especially since scientists have used all sorts of methods and sources of information. More important, the consistency of this research argues against the widely held notion that good parenting is all relative. In the past four decades of concerted, scientific study, no research has ever suggested that children fare better when their parents are aloof than when they are accepting, when their parents are lenient rather than firm, or when their parents are psychologically controlling rather than supportive of their psychological autonomy. p. 106-110

Instructivist parents
…teenagers who had been raised in authoritative homes—homes in which parents are accepting, firm, and supportive of their child’s psychological autonomy—fare significantly better than their peers from other types of households. Psychologically, authoritatively reared adolescents are more confident, more poised, more persistent, more self-reliant, and more responsible. They are less likely to use or abuse drugs or alcohol, and less likely to be involved in delinquency or in more minor forms of misbehavior, such as cheating on school tests or cutting classes. Adolescents from authoritative homes report less anxiety, less depression, and fewer psychosomatic problems, such as insomnia or problems controlling their appetite. And not surprisingly, adolescents from authoritative homes do best in school, as measured by their grades, their attitudes toward schoolwork, and the time they invest in their studies. (p. 116-117)

*see In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach
Romancing the Child by E.D. Hirsch

in which I swear off permissive parenting

Thursday, July 10, 2008

how to grow an athlete

I still haven't read this story, but this paragraph caught my eye:

If I gave in to the uncontrollable Ericssonian urge to put Spartak's success into a formula, it would read something like:

Intense Parents + Young Kids + Rigorous Technique + Toughness = Talent

How to Grow a Super-Athlete
by Daniel Coyle
NY Times Magazine
March 4, 2007

I should probably go post that in the Comments on Concerned Parent's blog.

the "naturals"

Speaking of how to grow an athlete, I learned yesterday, while spending FOUR HOURS out on in a CVS out on Long Island trying to get Andrew's prescription medications labeled in compliance with state law for autistic kids attending 7 days of summer camp for the first time EVER, that there's a fellow in Switzerland who may be able to distinguish between the "naturals" and the "works hards." (You can get a lot of magazines read waiting 4 hours in a CVS.)

I wish to heck Psych Today had the print story posted online. The neuroscientist was an aspiring chess grandmaster who worked his tucchus off, was sent to special schools, etc. He finally gave up when he was beaten by an amateur player who "just liked to play."

Here's the blurb they do have posted.

The difference he's seeing has to do with memory, but I haven't figured it out yet.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

open letter to Barack Obama

from John Dewey:

I am very distressed to learn about your selection of Jeanne Century as one of your education advisors. She is director of the science program of University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE), an organization which has been heavily involved with a horrificly lacking mathematics program called Everyday Mathematics—in fact, one of the co-directors of CEMSE was one of the developers of the program.

You will do what you do, I'm sure, but I truly hope that in formulating your positions on education, you take seriously the recommendations of the Presidentially appointed National Mathematics Advisory Panel. I also hope that you put aside partisan differences in judging such report and read it for what it is: an honest examination of what is the content that students must learn and master in elementary school in order to be prepared for algebra in 8th grade. The report also recommends what should be in such an algebra course.


I'd like to make you aware of a report, of which Ms. Century is listed as one of the authors.The report was published online in 1999 and is called "The Principals (sic) of Educational Reform: Supporting Mathematics and Science Teaching in your School. A Handbook for Elementary and Middle School Principals." (pdf file) I found the following passage in the report particularly disturbing:

"You may have teachers in your school who are not at all interested in exploring ways to change their practice. If you have such resisters, it is important to do everything you can to persuade them to participate.Listen to their concerns, give them the professional development and materials necessary, and provide them with encouragement. There will always be people who are simply shut down to change. But the change can happen without them. Don't focus too much of your energy on these individuals, for you don't want to neglect those who are ready and willing. The reluctant ones will eventually need to come on board but at the beginning it is more important to make sure support is available for those who want it. Still, if you think resistant teachers are going to actively undermine your progress, you may wish to consider exploring ways to remove them from your school. You may find that the teacher is just as happy to leave the school as you may be to see him/her go." (Emphasis added)


I would hope that you will not advance policies that continue the disservice that has been perpetrated on our children for the better part of two decades. On the other hand, I believe Lisa Keegan, (McCain's advisor) are much more aligned with how teaching should be conducted. Her ideas on education would be a change that I and many others (Democrats included) would welcome--something to which you might want to give some serious thought seeing as how you seem to be quite big on change.

In the spirit of non-partisanship, I remain,

Faithfully yours,

John Dewey

Published July 2, 2008

Obama & McCain ed advisors at AEP

CEMSE works to reverse negative trends in science, math education

Jeanne Century on "sustainability"

Math Underground on Jeanne Century

CEMSE isn't loading at the moment.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sunday, July 6, 2008

LaSalle High School and "kindness"

Vicky's post about the Kindness Project reminded me that I never got around to posting "La Salle High School's" approach to character and kindness, which I vastly prefer to the standard FOCUS-word approach.

from Chapter 8
One Kind of Excellence: Ensuring Academic Achievement at La Salle High School

...La Salle High School (a fictional name but not a fictional school) was chosen for study because the graduates of that high school well exceeded expectations as to academic success in their freshman year of college. Considering the relatively high socioeconomic status of La Salle’s population, its graduates were predicted to do well in college, but they did even better than graduates of other schools similarly situated....

...advocates of educational reform agree that a rigorous curriculum accompanied by high standards should be part of what we mean by an excellent school..... Simply asserting [high standards] or even requiring them by imposing dire penalties does not in itself ensure success. La Salle High School did not simply stipulate academic excellence as a standard; it instituted procedures and structures that were aimed at providing the support that such high expectations required. No school is a perfect school, but the way in which La Salle High School was organized provides one way to approach the problem of providing academic excellence for all.

"character ed" through academics
Our impression, relative to programs in other high schools being observed, is that at La Salle the mandate for academic excellence has become the medium through which the staff communicates with students. This is a distinctly different emphasis from that taken by programs that focus more directly on aspects of social development or on adolescent problems. The La Salle administrators perceive that the academic focus provides a more benign environment with respect to negative labeling than would a direct attack on students' problems in terms of emotional and social adjustment.

In some respects, the academic focus tends to mitigate negative labeling because it generally is restricted to dealing with specific student behaviors as opposed to identifying personal character traits; for example, there is a significant difference between, on the one hand, telling a student that his or her absences are affecting the quality of schoolwork and, on the other, suggesting that those absences reflect a pattern of avoidance or are indicative of an emotional disorder. The relationship between absence and failure to achieve well academically can be seen by the student as temporary and subject to correction, while the labeling of the same behavior as abnormal suggests a serious and even permanent condition. In this way, the focus on academics may serve to avoid at least some potentially destructive labels. In general, the formal system of authority that prevails at La Salle is premised on encouraging students' attention to academic tasks and not on putative emotional disorders.

The formal structure of authority also prescribe general procedures aimed at groups of students. All students in their junior year, for example, take a test designed to measure general mathematics competence. Those students who do not pass this test at least at an 80% level of proficiency are required to take a mathematics refresher course. (This constitutes about 25% of the junior class.) Up to this point, this process ma be perceived as simply an examination-driven approach to ensuring that La Salle students have achieved a prescribed level of competence. However, even after the mathematics refresher course, a few students still will not have demonstrated 80% proficiency on the skills tested, and it is for this small group that new mechanisms are set in motion. Rather than leaving these students to their own devices for developing mathematical competence, each of the students is further required to attend a mathematics laboratory at which individual problems with mathematics are diagnosed and treated on a case-by-case basis. These cases ranged from a simple lack of skill development to dealing with psychological phenomena such as reducing the effects of test anxiety and even developing means for teaching certain geometric functions to a blind student. (This meant producing teaching devices as no commercial devices were available.)

In instances such as these, it is highly significant that, while the formal structure of authority imposes high expectations on all students, it also provides extensive support services and requires students to use those services. the proficiency requirement in mathematics would in itself be virtually meaningless unless a regular screening process existed to identify those students having difficulties and, more important, involved a carefully delineated procedure for correcting them. It is in this sense that la Sale's approach differs from the more common "standard raising" approach to achieving academic excellence. Frequently, schools, school districts, and state departments of education seek to achieve excellence simply by testing alone, by raising minimum requirements on such tests, or by simplistic mechanisms such as incrasing graduation requirements. Because support systems for students are lacking or inadequate in some of these cases, excellence is not actually advanced, only proclaimed.

In spite of La Salle's general success in using academic development as a medium for maintaining authority in the school setting, the school goes to considerable lengths to deal with the problems presented by certain students who simply do not accept the school's authority structure as being legitimate. The major burden for dealing with problems of discipline and truancy falls on the two building co-principals, who are "the court of last resort" at La Salle. The principals report that in general their official approach is to take a hard line with both students and parents ("the student will have to shape up or get out") but in practice, they tend to work behind the scenes to keep the students in school. The behind-the-scenes work mahy include intervention and student advocacy with the student's teachers and establishing contact with local employers to attempt to secure a job for a student. (The job can then become a part of the negotiation process--"If we got you an afternoon job, would you be willing to remain in school during the mornings?") It is common for one of the two co-principals to send a student to the other when he or she feels unable to deal effectively with a particular case.

Thus, it appears that the formal and highly visible authority structure co-exists with a somewhat hidden and informal, but reasonably effective, informal authority structure. In other words, there is a human face behind some of the formal procedures.

Changing Course: American Curricular Reform in the 20th Century
by Herbert Kliebard (chapter 8 coauthored with Calvin R. Stone)
p. 119-120

If character education programs (and Kindness Projects) elsewhere are anything like character education here, I vote no.

Good character, inside a school, is about doing your work and striving to excel. When a student is not doing his work and striving to excel, that should be the school's center of attention, not "FOCUS" words scotch-taped all over the front window of the foyer.

Eyes on the prize.

"La Salle High School" - tracking, placement, accountability


oh my god

what was that?

4 1/2 hours?

Nearly 5?


I want to spend the rest of my summer taking tennis lessons.

Sad to see Federer lose, though. I've been watching him win the Open every year since 2004.