kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/31/09 - 6/7/09

Friday, June 5, 2009

Laura/GeekyMom on what parents want

at 11d:

In general, I think that some of the research, like any social science research on a complex topic with multiple variables, isn't terribly definitive. And I think that different kids need different things when it comes to education. And different parents want different things. Some parents want a well-rounded type of education that teaches solid academic skills but also leaves room for art, music, socializing, etc. Others want just the academic rigors and still others want a more artsy kind of education. As a school, then, it's hard to please and meet all those different needs and desires. Add to that the desire of state and federal government to assess progress without necessarily coming up with the best way to do that and you have a recipe for bad schools. Or at least schools that are very far from the ideal that many educated parents want.

One of our regulars (lgm? lsquared?) left a similar comment the other day, which I had intended to post up front but can't find at the moment.

This is an important question.

Do we have a sense of:

a) whether different children need different things

b) whether different parents want different things (I would say 'yes' to this one)

c) if parents want different things, what do these different things boil down to?

d) if parents want different things, what are the 'deal breakers'? (i.e., on what issues can parents compromise without feeling 'rolled over' -- )

At this point, having experienced Hogwarts, I am a partisan for boys schools (for boys who want or need boys school, not for all boys), structure, and in loco parentis.

Those elements may not be 'deal breakers' for me, however. I'm not sure.

The deal breaker for me is direct instruction in the liberal arts.I want my child to receive a liberal education. I don't want him to receive an 'education' in 21st century skills. On this matter, there is no room for compromise.

As for the distinctions amongst a well-rounded and solid education versus an academically rigorous education versus a more "artsy" education -- any of these would be fine with me. They would be great, in fact, although C. would be mildly resistant to "artsy."

But is my attitude likely to be common?

Remediation that works (paging Paul B)

Now if we could just find a way to skip having to remediate these kids and move to this model in the first place....

Chronicle of Higher Ed has a great piece on a remediation program at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee.

The model works like this:
In spring 2008 he put in place the math "emporium model" popularized by the National Center for Academic Transformation. Instead of attending traditional lectures in basic math, elementary algebra, and intermediate algebra, remedial students come to a large computer lab where they solve math problems and, when they need help, work with on-site faculty members and tutors. Courses are arranged in weekly modules with accompanying quizzes that can be retaken until students are ready for the next step.

Via Joanne Jacobs. Read the rest!

Anyone know anything else about the National Center for Academic Transformation?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

'an okay teacher with a big mouth'

I feel I know this teacher: I've always loved the teachers with the big mouths! I like quiet teachers, too.... it's just that I have a soft spot in my heart for the brassy ones.

(I have a soft spot in my heart for brassy people in general, come to think of it.)

I'm trying to remember whether palisadesk has given us studies on teacher effectiveness having to do with the teacher as a strong personality -- ? Can't remember. If she's around, I hope she'll weigh in.

In any event, this teacher sounds like a lot of fun.

She was inspired to write a manifesto on taking the bull by the horns after attending a two-day conference on professional learning communities:
From: Ballantine, Sara
Sent: Thursday, January 29, 2009 10:49 PM
To: All Teachers and Staff
Subject: The Problem With Education in America: An Autobiography

Dear Esteemed Colleagues,

I would like to take this opportunity to say, well, to say that we suck. Don’t believe me? Ask Rob, he’ll show you the numbers. Now please take a minute to compose yourselves, grab a tissue, call your mom/spouse/brother/sister/accountant/etc. to wallow in self pity.

Done? Let’s move on.

The question still remains, who is to blame?

No, scratch that. That isn’t the question. The question remains, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

I do need to preface this by saying that I have no misgivings about my talent, as well as my shortcomings. I believe it would be safe to say that we, in fact, all have talent, as well as shortcomings. So again, just to be clear, I write this not to determine who is the “suckiest” out of all of us, but rather, as a call to action.

We are all aware that our first semester numbers were pretty dismal to say the least...I don’t feel the need to outline all of the barriers in our way; we are all well aware of the current state of things in our country, our district, and our school.

Thus, I propose that we stop focusing on the things we can’t change, and concentrate on the things we can.

Let’s stop blaming the social demographics of our students, the apathy of parents, the lack of motivation in our students, the skills that they “didn’t come in with,” the middle school teachers, the elementary teachers, the birth control that the parents of our students didn’t take, the fact that we didn’t have any coffee this morning, the union, admin, each other, and start taking responsibility for the job that we were hired to do.

Let’s change our focus from the curriculum that is not available, the money that isn’t there, the challenges imposed by the “block” schedule, and start looking to each other as our greatest resources.


The issue is critical, more so than some of us care to admit, and the time to take action is now. Actually, it was yesterday, and even before that, so it must be NOW.

I understand that I am saying things that many of us don’t want to hear, presenting issues that we would rather not confront, and making suggestions that we fear we will not be able to fulfill. I understand that this letter will make me unpopular among some of you, and expect some criticism. And to be frank, I really don’t care. I say that with conviction because this isn’t about me, it’s not about you, it’s about the 900 lives that we are charged with five days a week, 180 days a year, and the job we elected to do.

Some of us will be convening in the staff lounge (in the cafeteria) tomorrow at lunch to begin this dialogue and create and action plan; however, I hope to see ALL of us there. Let’s face it; we don’t have until next week, next month or next year.

So, Esteemed Colleagues, I propose that we do everything we can to make us not just “Better than Good,” but that we do whatever it takes to be more gooder.

No, scratch that. Let’s be great.


Sara Ballantine

I'm sorry, but I have to say it: DUMP THE BLOCK SCHEDULING. I mean, c'mon. You've got a teacher with a big mouth who's willing to lead the charge, rally the troops, swear off complaining (and gossiping!) in the teacher's lounge -- and you're saddling her with block scheduling?

How about no?

Since I'm not a teacher, I want to add that I haven't put up this post because I think Ms. Ballantine and her colleagues "suck."

I've put it up because I think Ms. Ballantine's approach to herself, her job, and her abilities is pretty close to exemplary -- at least, it is for a certain personality type. Probably the brassy personality type. As she says, she's not concerned about her talent or her shortcomings; she knows she has talent and she knows she has shortcomings. Talent and shortcomings are neither here nor there. What matters is the kids, and that's what she's saying.

"I suck and my data isn't great" can be a highly productive attitude, and I'm in a position to know. That's all.

The Comments are nice, too.

the rich are different

Amy P & Ben Calvin pointed me to a discussion of nominally high performing schools at:


Crooked Timber

Megan McArdle


11d again (tour de force)


Glad to see it.

This is a subject that cries out for mega-repetition.

lsquared on moving up

Aha! This is what has been bothering me ever since we moved from a highly motivated, excellent, low SES school district, to a high SES, pretty good, but it depends a lot on the teacher you happen to get school district. The commitment to making sure students are learning (and using all of your resources in a focused way to make sure children have what they need to learn) is really missing here.

tour de force, part 3

Laura at 11D on criticizing schools:

I get a ton of e-mails (and not just from Amy P) complaining about a math program called Everyday Math. We don't have that program in our town; ours is more a hybrid between the old and new systems. Everything that I've heard about this math program is negative. Even with the hybrid system, Jonah's teachers have been terrible about math. They don't do enough repetition of math facts, and they just explain things really badly.

They don't do handwriting anymore, because the teachers tell me that all work will happen on laptops in the future.

Their time in specials (art, library, computers, health) is a complete waste of time.

They don't do enough writing.

They are not preparing the kids for good colleges. In fact, the head administrators seem to think that college consists of kids working in groups on laptop computers. They aren't preparing the kids for big lecture halls and blue books.

They assign book reports that consist largely of art projects that the parents complete.

They assign stupid homework like word searches and crossword puzzles.

They aren't even making sure that their curricula is lining up with the state standards. On state standardized tests, the kids are being tested on material that the teachers haven't covered yet. And in one case that I know about, a teacher coached the kids on the test.

Any criticism of school performance is rejected and blame is placed on the talent of the children. Or, in one very alarming instance, on the SES of the student body.

We're not in the highest performing school district in the state, but we're about at a B level for elementary and middle school. The high school is ranked in the top ten in the state, because it is a regional school district that brings in kids from wealthier towns. But I would not say that it is giving the students a high level education. A large proportion of the kids coming out of that high school are funneled into one of the substandard local colleges.

Speaking of art projects the parents complete, my sister just swapped emails with a young teacher in her 20s. My sister, who taught high school English years ago, "went on to say that I was old school and taught pre-posters, cereal box decorating, and movie analysis."

new teacher's response:
I teach in XXXX, Nevada. I've found that when I assign projects like posters and use clips from movies, the students understand complex, traditional literary devices (mood, theme, irony, etc.) much better. And, since the world these kids must live in is changing, I like to show them exactly how their education is relevant in more aspects of life than in my classroom.
So there you have it.

Does the world these kids must live in include college?

And how is it, exactly, that kids "understand complex literary devices" better when they make posters?

(How do you make a poster about irony?)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Richard DuFour on questions to ask job candidates:

1. I’m going to present you with four statements. Which is closest to your personal philosophy? “I believe all students can learn…

- based on their ability.”

- if they take advantage of the opportunities we give them to learn.”

- something, but it is more important that we create a warm and caring environment than fixating on academic achievement.”

- and we should be committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure all students learn at high levels.”

Latin III Honors


is there a way out of this box?

eduprobe wrote:
I live in an affluent, high-standardized-test-scoring school district. Some of the observations made here (e.g. pervasive use of private tutoring, learning problems often pushed onto parents) absolutely describe our district. Opposition is likely to be fierce from all sides to any change that might threaten the all-important (for neighborhood reputation and property values) test scores.

As a parent, how can I tell whether the schools are good or the teachers are good? The only measures we have available to us are the standardized test scores, which are high. If we don't have the means to measure the contribution of the school & the teachers to our kids' learning, then it seems unlikely that any significant changes would be introduced in the schools. We'll continue to address concerns about learning by going outside the school system, i.e. more tutoring, more "enrichment", more online supplementation, etc.

Is there a way out of this box?

anonymous wrote:
I'd love to see real data on parent supplementation/outside tutoring, with the reason(s)documented, available on the internet for every school in the country. I know it's a pipe dream, but it would be really useful and easy to do with a well-designed questionaire. It sure would raise a red flag about school quality if a highly-rated (test scores) school had 40% of students receiving regular instruction from parents or other tutoring sources.

I know many parents in affluent, highly-rated districts who have been saying for decades that the schools are riding on the student demographics/parent efforts.

I think there is a way out, and that way is the path taken by Richard DuFour at Adlai Stevenson High School 25 years ago, when he developed professional learning communities.

I've also come to think that the core feature that makes professional learning communities work, the one characteristic without which you have no chance of success, is a school-wide commitment to the individual student.
I realize that you have an entire school system to worry about and that I am focused only on one child. However, after many years of experience with education, I have become convinced that a large percentage of children with real potential are brushed aside and discouraged by education systems that concentrate on the system rather than the needs of each child. The converse is also true. Where the needs of each child are understood and accommodated, schools succeed. I have experienced it personally.

a grandfather takes a stand

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Alternate universe

Sometimes I think Catherine lives in an alternate universe that's even crazier than the one the rest of us live in.

- GoogleMaster
It's time to get Richard Elmore's observations on nominally high performing schools posted. Finally.
My work as a researcher and consultant takes me into classrooms in all sorts of schools. My primary interest is improving the quality of teaching in high-poverty, racially diverse schools. Lately, however, I have also been called upon to visit schools in more affluent communities — some of them extraordinarily affluent.

While visiting schools in a variety of districts, I began to notice something that puzzled me. Some of these schools, particularly those with large numbers of poor and minority children, are working against daunting — some would say unreasonable — expectations for improvement in test scores. In more affluent schools, those pressures are much less evident. Yet the kinds of instructional problems that surface in both types of schools are strikingly similar.


I began to examine successful schools with high concentrations of poor and minority children — those in which students were doing as well as or better than those in affluent schools on statewide standardized tests — to see what they were doing to improve the level of instruction in their classrooms. These high performing, high poverty schools were not just different in degree from other schools, they were different in kind. School leaders had clearly articulated expectations for student learning, coupled with a sense of urgency about improvement; they adopted challenging curricula and invested heavily in professional development. Teachers in these schools internalized responsibility for student learning; they examined their practices critically, and if they weren’t working, they abandoned them and tried something else.

Most important, school leaders insisted that classrooms be open to teacher colleagues, administrators, and outsiders for observation and analysis of instructional practice. For instance, teachers might review test scores together to pinpoint content areas and classrooms where children seemed to be struggling and then observe the classroom and discuss what changes in teaching practice might help these children succeed. Even high-poverty schools that were in the initial stages of improvement but still classified as “low-performing” seemed to be working in a different way than schools whose performance did not trigger adverse attention under the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.


When I returned to visit schools in more affluent communities, I began to see them in a very different light. On paper, these schools’ performance usually looked reasonably good. From the inside, however, they looked jarringly different from the improving high-poverty schools I had observed.

One of the most powerful differences was that teachers and administrators tended to define student learning difficulties as a problem to be solved by students and their families, rather than one to be solved by schools. A common response to student learning problems in these districts is to suggest the parents seek private tutoring. At a recent gathering of about 300 educators from high income schools and districts, I asked how many could tell me the proportion of students in their schools who were enrolled in private tutoring. Only four or five hands went up. But among those respondents, the answers ranged from 20% to 40%.

What does this mean for instructional improvement? These schools are outsourcing the task of teaching every student — and from classroom to classroom, teachers may not even be aware of it. As a result, teachers are not challenged to identify shortcomings in their own practice that inhibit student learning, or to share knowledge about which teachers are most successful and why.

In more affluent communities, I also found that variations in student performance were frequently taken for granted. Instead of being seen as a challenge to the teachers’ practice, these differences were used to classify students as more or less talented. Access to high-level courses was intentionally limited, reinforcing the view that talent, not instruction, was the basis of student achievement.

There were exceptions, of course — sometimes dramatic exceptions — to this general pattern, where teachers, principals, and superintendents were willing to challenge the conventional norms and expectations of high-performing schools and take a critical look at their own practice. Leaders in those schools question prevailing beliefs about the differences in student learning, stimulate discussion about the quality of student work, and — like their counterparts in less wealthy schools — focus on content areas where classroom work seems markedly below what students are capable of doing.

While the verdict is still out, I have noticed that challenging expectations in these schools often puts leaders in a risky place. Parents and school boards in affluent communities may not want to hear that the teaching in their schools is mediocre. The accountability system does not call attention to the problems of instructional quality in these schools, nor does it reinforce efforts to solve them. Improvement can be dangerous business in settings like these, and some principals and superintendents have the scars to prove it. Unlike low-performing schools, which may be galvanized by external pressure to improve, so-called high-performing schools must often swim against a tide of complacency to generate support for change.


If existing accountability systems could actually measure the value that schools add to student learning, independent of family background, the schools now ranked as “high-performing” would probably cleave into two categories: schools in which students’ academic performance is related to the quality of teaching and learning, and schools in which performance is largely attributable to income and social class. But standards-based accountability systems don’t operate that way. They put all schools whose students perform at the same level into the same category, regardless of how they got there. Because the existing federal accountability system does not distinguish between schools that produce results through high-quality teaching and those that produce results largely through social class, it is largely rewarding the wrong things.

What (so-called) low-performing schools can teach (so-called) high-performing schools by Richard F. Elmore National Staff Development Council Vol. 27, No. 2 Spring 2006 p. 43-45

nominally high performing schools in a nutshell:

Add Paul Attewell's study into the mix and you've got it: parallel universe.

What's striking to me is how similar very affluent schools are to (some) schools with very disadvantaged students. No one thinks the kids can do any better than they're doing now and everyone blames the parents. Our current superintendent has actually duplicated of the classic features of urban schools here in this tiny village: guards at the school doors, centralized authority, adversarial stance toward parents and kids, hostile relationship with the union - the works. At school events, teachers thank "central administration" for attending.

I'll tell you my story about the urban principal sending her kids to a Westchester school later on.

a certain level of confidence
wealthy schools & the decline at the top
cranberry on wealthy schools & the sorting machine
how math departments in wealthy schools treat students

a grandfather takes a stand

*comment selected from Comment Bank for by C's 6th grade math teacher

Paul Chance at Amazon dot com

Have I mentioned that I collect Listmanias?

Well, I do.

Paul Chance's list of "Reviews Written by Paul Chance" is so good I may have to start collecting reader review lists, too.*

Here he is on Fred Jones Tools for Teaching:
The discussion of incentives is very good, but while incentives are important, I think B. F. Skinner's comment is worth remembering: Skinner said that we have to get the student to the point where he does things because of the satisfaction gained from doing them because the teacher is not going to follow the student around forever handing out smily faces. (I'm paraphrasing Skinner, but that's the idea. See his The Technology of Teaching for the exact quote.) I think part of the solution is to see to it that the student's efforts are successful most of the time. (As I say in my own book, success is the great motivator.)
The idea of building motivation through reinforcement makes sense to me.

The idea of putting kids in groups, handing them an open-ended project to do, and assuming they are now motivated because they're active learners not passive vessels makes no sense at all.

* He has a Listmania, too!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Trust the Spiral

Everyday Math, teacher to teacher:

"Trust the spiral. Do not skip over lessons or teach out of order."

"Keep going even when some of the students don't have mastery of the objective. Because of the structure of the program, it is okay to move on."

Everyday Math, parent to parent:

"NEVER trust the spiral. Ensure mastery even if you have to pay a tutor."

$27,722.32 per pupil spending

Irvington Union Free School District

2008 - 2009
enrollment: 1888
budget: $50,583,424
per pupil: $26,792

projected enrollment: 1840
budget: $51,009,065
per pupil: $27,722.32

Over the weekend I talked to a friend I hadn't seen in a while.

She and her husband spend each school night getting their child through homework the child is not able to do alone. Then, each morning, they give their child a math quiz. Dad has a Ph.D. in a math-related field so he knows what math is and what kids must do to learn it.

Irvington teachers don't give math quizzes. Nor do they, as a rule, collect and correct homework. Providing distributed practice isn't their job.

I would like to know how high our per pupil spending would be if you included the tutoring fees and the lost salary of parents who are teaching instead of working.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

3 questions for Andy Isaacs:

1. Do any of the studies you mention control for tutor use or parental intervention at home?
2. Do you have any financial disclosures to make concerning EM, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill?
3. Did you have to take remedial math as a freshman in college?
Laura Troidle

the empire strikes back

Andy Isaacs on The Case for Everyday Mathematics
"Everyday Mathematics is the most researched and trusted elementary math curriculum in the United States. It is the program of choice for nearly four million students nationwide."

"The highly efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms that have been traditional in the U.S. may no longer be the best algorithms for children in today’s technologically demanding world. Today’s elementary school children will be in the workforce well into the second half of the 21st century and the school mathematics curriculum should reflect the technological age in which they will live, work, and compete."

"Research shows that students learn best when new topics are presented at a brisk pace, with multiple exposures over time, and with frequent opportunities for review and practice. The sequence of instruction in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum has been carefully mapped out to optimize these conditions for learning and retaining knowledge. Test results show that this approach works."


I'm particularly keen on the 21st century argument. Apparently, in the 21st century people are going to do things a lot slower.

Spitting in the eye of mainstream education

Here's a refreshing break from the normal PC drenched solutions to getting change in public education.

Reporting from Oakland -- Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."

This is just the beginning of the story about how American Indian Charter School(s) are breaking from orthodoxy and getting spectacular results in Oakland with inner city kids. Here's another taste...

Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote the school's website.
They don't shrink from high expectations and they don't take prisoners when it comes to discipline. But, they are not without enemies either...

Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."

Here's the money quote...

The Academic Performance Index, the central measuring tool for California schools, rates schools on a scale from zero to 1,000, based on standardized test scores. The state target is an API of 800. The statewide average for middle and high schools is below 750. For schools with mostly low-income students, it is around 650.

The oldest of the American Indian schools, the middle school known simply as American Indian Public Charter School, has an API of 967. Its two siblings -- American Indian Public Charter School II (also a middle school) and American Indian Public High School -- are not far behind.

Among the thousands of public schools in California, only four middle schools and three high schools score higher. None of them serves mostly underprivileged children.

Reading this makes me think of the famous line from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth." I'm wondering aloud how many people in my district could handle this truth. Not many, I suspect.