kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/7/09 - 6/14/09

Saturday, June 13, 2009

it's good to be rich, part 2

Six-figure teachers aren't going to fix public schools.

It's good to be rich, part 1

The Cartel

Bob Bowdon’s documentary “The Cartel” about what’s wrong with education looks even better on the big screen. I attended the premiere in Teaneck Saturday. I saw an advanced copy on dvd so I could write a column about it. That allowed me to pay more attention to the audience reaction when the film was viewed by it for the first time. It commanded attention. There was no talking to each other or texting. Only one person I saw left a seat temporarily. The audience was spellbound at the jaw-dropping corrupti0n and waste that has resulted in New Jersey’s property taxes being the worst in the nation and our kids getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The audience laughed as the NJEA president tried to explain why tenured teachers seldom are fired no matter how bad they are. They snickered at Corzine’s education commissioner, Lucille Davy, who couldn’t explain why charter school applications are turned down. They saw Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts tell reporters there are no sacred cows in Corzine’s budget then saw Corzine brag about adding more education money, probably headed for some rat hole.

There were the kids crying because they lost out in the lottery to get one of the open seats at a good charter school. They laughed as the film demonstrated if car manufacturers were assigned districts like schools some people would have no choice but to buy a Yugo.

This film is like a sharp stick in the eye. It should be seen by anyone who votes or pays taxes in New Jersey or plans to. More than that, it should be seen by Davy, Corzine and the members of the Legislature who stand behind this fraud of a “thorough and efficient system” of education.

‘The Cartel’ is a must see
by Bob Ingle

The Cartel
A Feature Documentary on How American Public Education Primarily Serves Its Employees, Not Its Children

it's good to be rich

I was out for a run with C. and the dogs, and, since we don't have sidewalks, passing cars were having to stop so I could clear the dogs off to the side of the road.

After a late model European sedan slowed for us, C. said, "That was Ms. Xxxx."

Math teacher in the district.*

"Really?" I said. "She's probably here to tutor somebody." I was joking.

"She tutors so-and-so," C. said matter of factly.

Sure enough. When we got to so-and-so's house, there was the late model European sedan parked out front.

Funny how you can search far and wide in the effective schools literature and never find an expert recommending that teachers set up shop as private tutors for their own district's students.

* for passersby: roughly 1900 children in K-12, per pupil spending $26,718 rising to $27,722 next year

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dan Brown on the Challenge Index

Scoring high on Mathews's Challenge Index has created an incentive for schools across the country to push students who have no shot at passing the exams into these high-intensity classes. On a large scale, kids reading below grade level are taking classes designed for above-grade-level students. You've got students that have great difficulty reading young adult books or writing complete sentences being assessed on independently reading novels like Jane Eyre and composing analytical essays on Bronte's style.

The argument that Mathews makes in an accompanying Newsweek piece is that AP classes are healthy "shock therapy" for lower-performing college-bound kids. I see his argument that a rigorous environment can be a motivator for some striving, low-skilled students to bump up their effort.

However, the widespread pushing of AP courses on struggling students -- with rewards of high scores on the "Challenge Index" -- is not in many students' best interest. I expect Mathews would view me as a stodgy defender of the status quo while he casts himself as a bold innovator. At least he quotes one dissenting voice from Professor J. Martin Rochester:

"Having failing students take AP courses as a solution to their academic struggles is like promoting a poor-hitting minor-league ballplayer to the New York Yankees in the hope that it will jump-start his career if he faces major-league pitching."

I'll go one better on the sports analogy; let's take the Boston Marathon. If you want to have a shot at finishing those 26.2 miles, let alone compete for a decent finishing place, it takes long-term training and serious dedication. If you are short on one of those two qualities, a surplus of the other may suffice to get you over the finish line. If you've got neither -- you're not in shape and you don't really want to do hardcore distance running -- then your school does you no favors by pressuring you to sign up for the race.

Newsweek's Top High Schools List is Off Base
I'm a huge fan of Martin Rochester.

I'm of two minds on the Challenge Index.

In fact, Mathews singlehandedly opened up Advanced Placement courses to disadvantaged kids.

He may have singlehandedly opened up Advanced Placement courses to advantaged kids caught in the sorting machine.

Now that it's become crystal clear that the original Challenge Index has served its purpose and, in my view, run its course, he's added the Equity and Excellence score.

Fair enough.

Speaking of Jay Mathews, go read Work Hard. Be Nice. Right now.


Challenge Index gives percent passing!

For years, people have been hounding Jay Mathews about his Challenge Index, which measures percent of graduating seniors taking AP tests. Taking, not passing. The Challenge Index measures only percent of graduating seniors taking AP tests. Mathews set the Challenge Index up this way in order to persuade schools to allow disadvantaged students, who had a high likelihood of failing the test, into AP courses.

That tactic succeeded brilliantly, particularly in wealthy suburban schools like mine, which presumably adopted open enrollment sometime after the Challenge Index came into being. In the years that I've been reading the list, Irvington High School has typically ranked amongst the top 200 high schools in the country. Of course, since nobody reads the fine print, people assumed the Challenge Index was actually an Achievement Index: a ranking of how well students do on the test.

Last year Mathews finally bowed to reality:
The minute I saw that Coolidge High School in the District had given a startling 750 Advanced Placement tests last May, and that only 2 percent of those exams had received passing scores, I knew I was in trouble.


Some readers have argued that the Challenge Index is an invitation to unscrupulous principals to stuff students into AP and create a false aura of academic success, but I don't think that is possible. Teachers, parents and students have to accept the AP courses as valid, as many of them have at Coolidge. A principal who tried such a scheme without community support would soon be looking for another job.

Why I Changed the Challenge Index
Jay Mathews
Thursday, December 11, 2008; 9:45 AM

That second paragraph doesn't hold for affluent school districts, where you have winner-take-all placement mechanisms (scroll down) that produce an enormous pent-up demand for AP courses in college-bound students who have been tracked out of Honors. In that case, when a principal decides that AP courses will take all comers, the community assumes that pushy parents have pressured the school into letting unprepared students take AP courses they don't belong in.

When students fail the AP test, that is confirmation that pushy parents have had their way with the principal.

This year, the Challenge Index includes a new number for "Equity & Excellence": the percentage of all graduating seniors, including those who never got near an AP course, who had at least one score of 3 or above on at least one AP test sometime in high school. Irvington's Equity & Excellence figure is 58. Our ranking this year is #241. Meanwhile Hastings, two towns over, has 73% of graduating seniors passing at least one AP test in their high school career & a ranking of 353.

More than 90% of Irvington graduating seniors enroll in college; 58% pass one AP test in their high school years.

bonus factoid: Scarsdale has 60% of graduating seniors passing at least one AP test without offering any AP courses for the past two years. I hate to even imagine how much more tutoring those parents are paying for (scroll down).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our Country Deserves Better Than This!

From Jay P. Greene's Blog - Sandra Stotsky tells us what’s what:

“If another country wanted other countries to respect its educational system and the reforms it was trying to make, who would it choose to lead such an important professional project as the development of its national standards in mathematics and in the language of its educational system itself? In any other country in the world, one would expect a distinguished mathematician at the college level to be asked to chair the mathematics standards-writing committee–someone who commands the respect of the mathematics profession (and obviously is an expert on mathematics). For the language standards-writing committee, one would likewise expect an eminent scholar in a college-level department–someone whose command of the language and understanding of the texts that inform the development of this language could not be questioned. If the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers had thought about national pride (and national need) as well as academic/educational expertise, then all of us would respect the Common Core Initiative and look forward with eagerness to the drafts the NGA and CCSSO have promised to make public in July.

These two organizations could have followed, for example, the exemplary procedures followed by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, on which I had the privilege to serve. The Panel was chaired by the former president of one of the major universities in the country, all Panel members were identified at the outset, their qualifications were made known to the pubic, their procedures were open to the public and taped as well, and the final product was hammered out in public, after dozens of reviewers provided critical comments.

But instead of choosing nationally known scholars to chair and staff these committees–to assure us of the integrity and quality of the product–the NGA and the CCSSO have, for reasons best known to themselves, treated the initiative as a private game of their own. The NGA and the CCSSO haven’t even bothered to inform the public who is chairing these committees, who is on them, why they were chosen, what their credentials are, and why we should have any confidence whatsoever in what they come up with.

One person has announced on his own to the press and to a state department of education that he is chairing the mathematics standards-writing committee. He has not been contradicted by anyone at NGA or CCSSO, so we must assume he’s for real. It turns out he is an English major with no academic degrees in mathematics whatsoever. No one has yet announced on his/her own that he/she is chairing the English standards-writing committee. One wag has already wondered whether this person might be a mathematics major with no academic degrees in English. But it’s possible the sad joke in mathematics is not being repeated in English.

This country deserved better for a project of such national importance.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tutoring and an attempt to clone myself

They're making new remedial students faster than I can tutor them.

This past year, I taught 2 classes of remedial reading with the help of volunteers from my church. While teaching the second class, I made highly scripted, idiot proof instructions at the request of the volunteers I was working with so they could continue on with the program after my move to Santa Monica, California this summer.  (They specifically wanted idiot proof, and said the more scripted and idiot proof, the better!)

They are now complete and posted on my new "How to Tutor" page.  The idiot proof instructions are about halfway through, in this paragraph:
Your number one task is to get them to stop guessing and start sounding out each and every word from left to right. Nonsense words are key, they help prevent guessing. Here is a free website that generates nonsense words. Syllables are also helpful, I would use the Blend Phonics Reader (it helps show how guessing is a bad strategy by showing words with similar configuration together) followed byWebster’s Speller. Here is a step by step guide to using Blend Phonics that also adds in syllables, spelling and phonics rulessyllable division rules, and syllable division exercises. There are also readings from Hebrews 12 that can be added to show progress through the program.
In a further attempt to clone myself, I have started a joint blog with Don Potter where people can share their phonics teaching experiences, whether they teach 1 or 100 students. The volunteers I worked with actually came up with a lot a great ideas, especially the ones with 3 or more children/grandchildren, they are wise in the ways of children!

A quick rundown of their most effective ideas:

  1. Banning pencils and switching to oral spelling (10% of the children were taking notes usefully, the rest started drawing and stopped listening.)  The oral spelling was also much quicker and prone to peer pressure to be involved.
  2. Switching from a long teach/small group work cycle to a cycle of 1-2 minutes of teaching and 3 to 5 minutes of working with 2 or 3 students for each volunteer.
  3. Parent involvement.  The last class, parents were part of our volunteers.  (They could opt to either work with their own children or other children, their preference.)  This taught them how to work with their children at home on their own and also let them see the phonics in action.  The best improvement I've seen from any student in my 15 years of remedial phonics tutoring came from a student whose mom worked with her diligently on the days we did not meet--she was reading 3 grade levels above her grade level when we finished!
It's really easy to tutor.  Sixteen year old girls used to teach all their students to read while teaching the rest of the R's to their other students, and they didn't even have idiot proof instructions!  (Of course, they would have seen it taught 5 or 6 times in their one-room schools.)

It's great to see the students change as their self-confidence improves and they learn to read well.  It's also easy to make big changes with Webster's Speller.  Using Blend Phonics and the Speller in two 2-month courses, twice a week for 90 minutes, had the spring and fall classes we taught improving, on average, 2.3 and 1.5 grade levels per student!

(If you were wondering at my lack of posts, I was tutoring, making idiot proof instructions, and homeschooling my daughter.  It's now summer and my idiot proof instructions are complete. Of course, now we're moving, there's always something...)

Singapore is Working--last chance to buy your CWPs

We switched to Singapore math in January.  I've seen a big improvement in my daughter's mathematical thinking since the switch.

We hadn't even gotten to multiplication yet, when a few months ago I asked her on a whim, how much is four 4's?  She came back with 16 very quickly.  

I asked her how she knew, and she said I'd taught her.  I said, "I did, how?"

She replied, "You taught me that 4 + 4 = 8 and 8+ 8 = 16."

We have since done a bit of multiplication, but I'm still impressed.  Seeing the program being used makes me realize even more how different it is, and how well designed it is.  It doesn't look that different until you really scrutinize it, and its full worth doesn't come out until you have used it.  It is even more apparent how well it works if you used a regular math program first. 

I just bought all 6 years worth of Challenging Word Problems, as CassyT posted, they are being discontinued soon.  I also bought next year's 2nd grade math.

After last summer's exodus of math facts from the brain, this summer we're  doing Right Start math games a few times a week to keep the math facts from jumping out of the brain and running off somewhere.  It is a fun way to review math facts, we're enjoying it so far!

"complaints can improve your school"

I'm pretty sure I would kill to have this person running my district:
Here are a few tips on do-it-yourself complaint resolution. Or consider this advice that will help to avoid hiring an expensive consultant to tell you what is wrong in your school or district.

• Seek complaints. Ask for the compliments and the bad stuff. Don’t become defensive when you hear bad news. Instead, probe for the exact nature of the problem, the resolution sought and ideas for how to accomplish this. A well-stated problem in operational terms can really help get a resolution under way.

• Let the person closest to the problem attempt to resolve the problem prior to your intervention. I always tell the educators with whom I work that I support them. However, I also let them know if they have made a mistake they need to get on top of fixing it or apprise me of the situation so I can attempt to resolve it (or at least get into damage-control mode).

I advise educators that if a school constituent calls me with a complaint, the first thing I will do is ask if he or she has contacted the educator in question. If not, then I probe for further information and ask the constituent if I can have the educator call him or her. If a resolution is not reached, the constituent is to call me back. In 99 percent of the issues, I never hear from the constituent again.

At the same time, the educator feels supported because I have allowed him or her to resolve the problem. The educator understands if he or she doesn’t resolve the problem, then I will do so because if I don’t, the problem will go over my head and someone on the school board or in the local news media will resolve it — and probably not to our satisfaction.

• Do something. It’s not good enough to hear a complaint and then agree with the complaint. If you can’t do anything, chances are the complainant will find someone who will.

The most effective job you can do is to listen dispassionately and objectively. Is the complaint reasonable? Is it coming from a reasonable person who has not gone off the deep end because his or her child has ADHD or SAB (simply annoying behavior)? You must be the professional who provides advice on dealing with a difficult child or educator instead of throwing up your hands and blaming someone else.

Find resources, find help, find solutions. You won’t have just one ADHD or SAB student in your schools nor will you have just one difficult employee so find help for the parents, and you will find help for your employees and yourself at the same time.

When you don’t know how to solve the complainer’s problem, simply ask, “How can we make this right?” Not only will you get a solution that the constituent will agree with since he or she is suggesting it, but there’s a good chance this idea of how to make things right will require less work or worry on your part than what you would have come up with minus the input.

Systemic Answers
• If there’s a pattern to the complaints, then address the pattern. A systemic problem needs a systemic approach to resolution. You are the one to be able to see a recurring complaint that your team and you can address. Adopt the attitude of fixing the problem rather than living with it.

• Find ways to have your employees adopt a schoolwide culture of using complaints as a way to improve practice. State it in your mission or school district goals, but constantly press for this way of seeing school operations from everyone in the system (from central office to principals, teachers, custodians, etc.). Constantly model an appreciation for complaints and resolving them by using this same approach with your employees, and point out what you are doing. Do not make problems your problems but our problems, and remember to get the complainers to help resolve the problem.

When you start to look at complaints as an opportunity to improve your organization rather than an attack on your organization, then you will (after a brief moment of regret and irritation) take your organization to a new level of performance. Wouldn’t it be nice if when community members left your schools they remembered their experience with schools as one of the best of their lives?

Embracing complaints will help you to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. And that is, after all, why we are all here.

Complaints Can Improve Your Schools
by Jan Borelli
The School Administrator May 2009

My district requires parents to "work up the chain of command." That's the way the superintendent always puts it: work up the chain of command.

Our school board has actually adopted a Code of Conduct for parents requiring that we work up the chain of command:
A cooperative relationship between home and school is essential to each student’s successful development and achievement. To achieve this relationship with school, parents have a responsibility to insist on prompt and regular attendance by their children and to ensure that they are prepared to participate and learn. Parents are expected to show an enthusiastic and supportive attitude toward school and education and recognize that they and the school are jointly responsible for their children’s education. In addition, parents are expected to teach their children self-respect, respect for the law, respect for others as well as respect for public property. It is their responsibility to ensure that their children are aware of and abide by all district policies, rules and regulations. Parents are expected to follow a process for effective communication with school, which includes first addressing any concerns with the individual teacher involved and then his/her immediate supervisor before involving any other parties. Parents should also be aware that they are responsible for any financial obligations incurred by their children in school. This includes lost books, damage to property, etc.

School personnel play an important role in the education of students. In view of this, it is incumbent upon all school personnel to promote a climate of mutual respect, treat students in an ethical and responsible manner, and demonstrate desirable standards of behavior through personal example. All school personnel are expected to report violations of the Code of Conduct to a building administrator. Violent behavior shall be reported immediately.

Irvington Code of Conduct
Policy 7310
Adopted by the Board of Education July 2, 2001
Revised and Adopted by the Board of Education July 1, 2008

Notice that the Code for parents is twice as long as the code for school personnel.

That's because parents don't have a union.

p.s.: The board's Code of Conduct for parents is legally unenforceable. I asked a lawyer. A lawyer for a school board, in fact.

Students Give Group Assignments a Failing Grade

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education:


At a conference on teaching at colleges on Saturday,
three undergraduates made a plea: No more group
assignments -- not unless they will be graded fairly. . ."

The conference in question is the sixth annual Teaching Professor conference, an event sponsored by Magna Publications, a Wisconsin publisher of higher-education newsletters.

Of course the problem is (right, everyone?) that those darn ol' instructors just don't know how to design group projects well.

The article cites a 2004 paper in the Journal of Student Centered Learning entitled “Turning Student Groups Into Effective Teams,” suggesting that students rate the “team citizenship” of each member of their group, and that those ratings in turn be used to help determine each student’s individual grade.

Yeah right. Now that sure sounds like an improvement, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

desperately seeking YouTube

I desperately need a copy of the French Open LaCoste commercial on YouTube.

This is the song, not the ad.

Crimson Wife on homeschooling vs afterschooling

My kids are zoned to attend one of those "nominally high achieving" but actually mediocre schools. Since I'd have to "afterschool" them to make up for the school's academic deficiencies, I don't see the point in enrolling them in the first place. So we homeschool, and free up our afternoons for a mix of organized activities and unstructured free play.
My question to Crimson Wife: how did you know?

I'm always amazed by people who manage to figure things out years before I figure things out.

Not that that should be amazing.

But, still.


Allison on liberal education

I want my kids to be able to understand the world they are in, how it came to be that way, and which parts are mutable, which immutable. I want them to be able to recognize truth from falsehood. I want them to want to find out more truths, as well. I want them to be able to communicate well enough to convey their ideas, their opinions, and their knowledge to others. I want them to experience joy.

That means they need to be able to think and reason. All of that means they need to know science, math, history, literature, rhetoric, art, and philosophy, as well as some economics, some engineering and a few other things. That's why I want the liberal arts education.

RMD on different parents wanting different things

"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. "

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. However, since most parents are ill-informed about what is really needed to succeed (including me), there is much more disagreement than there otherwise might be. (As a side note, I don't believe this is because parents aren't smart and capable, but because there is so much bad information. Also, we all tend to make decisions based on our personal observations rather than what some study says . . . look at fad weight loss supplements people ingest, despite the poorly supported claims, that end up being very unhealthy.)

For quite a while now, I've suspected this is true: if the realm of education were less muddled, there would be less disagreement.....amongst parents, at least.

I don't know whether it's true - but if I had to 'put my nickel down,' as a sonogram technician once said to me, I'd put it on RMD's analysis.

Green Dot

I'm midway through the New Yorker article on Steve Barr and Green Dot -- wow.
Barr was born in 1959, just south of San Francisco, and lived with his mother in Monterey, near the military base, where she worked as a dental assistant and a cocktail waitress. When he was six, he and his younger brother spent a year in foster care. Later, they made their home in a trailer in Missouri, before moving back to California.

In school, Barr was a good athlete, and popular. Every teacher knew his name. His brother, Mike, was quiet and overweight. Mike tried playing in the band for a while. ("Why do you give the chubby kid a tuba?" Barr asked, sighing. "Do you know how hilarious it is seeing a chubby kid try to get on the bus with a tuba?") But soon Mike got lost in their large high school. Steve graduated, and went on to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Mike dropped out, and never really settled into an adult life. Eventually, he was in a motorcycle accident. After a series of surgeries, he lost his leg. He won a settlement, but that attracted the wrong friends. "You take a poor kid who has problems and give him a lot of money . . ." Barr said. When Barr was thirty-two, Mike died of a drug overdose. His mother died shortly afterward, and Barr began to drift.

He discovered charter schools by accident. When President Clinton went to San Carlos to visit California's first charter school, Barr tagged along, and encountered the school's founder, Don Shalvey, and a Silicon Valley businessman, Reed Hastings, who had just founded Netflix. Shalvey and Hastings were about to draw up a ballot initiative that would increase the number of charter schools in California. Barr decided to help. "He came out of nowhere," Hastings said. And he brought a very different approach. He persuaded them, for instance, to try to make peace with the California Teachers Association. "He helped us realize we were perhaps overly simplistic in demonizing the union as the enemy," Hastings said. "It turned out C.T.A. was open to a stronger charter law."

As Barr worked on the campaign, he started to think about his own years in school, and his brother's. High school, he decided, was the point where their lives diverged. When the charter-school measure passed, he broke up with his girlfriend, moved out of their apartment, gave up his convertible, and rented a decrepit place in Venice, sight unseen. He moved in on Christmas morning, to a room strewn with needles, vomit, and feces. "I'm thirty-nine, I'm alone," he said. "Merry fucking Christmas." He tied his chocolate Lab, Jerry Brown, in the corner, put on the Harry Belafonte album his mother used to play every Saturday morning, when they did chores together, and scrubbed the apartment.

A year and a half later, he opened Animo Leadership Charter High School, near Lennox. (He said that in Spanish animo can mean "courage" or "valor," but he prefers a Mexican surfing buddy's translation: "Get off your ass.") He hired five of his seven teachers straight out of college and rented classrooms at a night school. When one of the teachers quit in the first couple of weeks, he replaced her with his office manager. Barr worked mostly without pay for the next few years, spending the last of his savings and his brother's settlement, and doing such damage to his finances that Costco revoked his membership. He pitched in a lot himself. "Maybe the most fun I had was going to test-drive school buses," he said.

And he starting a surfing club. "There were a handful of kids at the school who were really fricking cool but weren't being reached somehow," he said. "There was a kid named Ricky. He was smart, charismatic. All the girls loved this guy. There was another girl named Stephanie, who I think had a crush on Ricky." They agreed to find twenty-five kids who would show up before school, at 6 A.M.

"We were driving to the South Bay, Manhattan Beach. It was real quiet," Barr recalled. "Halfway out there, one of the kids said, 'Mr. Barr, do you have to know how to swim to surf?' " Half the kids couldn't. Barr put his head in his hands and laughed.

"The Manhattan Beach school system, they actually have surfing in gym class, so you have all these blond-haired, blue-eyed kids in the water," Barr continued. "And here come these kids from Lennox. The Lennox surf team." He mimicked a slow, tough walk. "Their gear's a little off, you know, they're all Latino, and a couple of black kids. I remember them getting triple takes."

At the end of its first chaotic year, Barr's school beat Hawthorne High School in every measurable outcome. "When the scores come out, I have to call Shalvey"--Barr's charter-school mentor--"and ask him, 'Are they good?' " Barr said. " 'Cause I don't fucking know. I don't know how to read test scores." The night school eventually moved, and Animo Leadership took over the entire campus. Last year, U.S. News & World Report ranked it among the top hundred public high schools in the country.

I'm in the thick of the part where he takes over Lock High School ----