kitchen table math, the sequel: 8/9/09 - 8/16/09

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Catherine, that is. She's on vacation for a week.

Will the rest of us will hold the fort while she's gone, or throw a rowdy party? :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the Jesuits

Every now and again I find myself chatting with some wonderfully cultured and learned person from India or Lebanon or wherever, and it turns out that s/he was educated by Jesuits (this happens enough that I have ceased to be surprised by it).

- observation made by a colleague & friend of Ed's when told that C. would be enrolling in Hogwarts


from The Condition of Education 2009:

  • In 2007, 6.7 million or 13.6 percent of public school students received special education services.
  • The ratio of students to teachers, which is sometimes used as a proxy measure for class size, declined between 1990 and 2006, from 17.6 to 15.9 students per teacher for all regular public schools
  • Total expenditures per student in fall enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools rose 31 percent in constant dollars between 1989–90 and 2005–06, from $8,627 to $11,293
  • [F]or 17-year-olds, the average reading score was higher in 2008 than in 2004, but was not measurably different from the score in 1971
  • [F]or 17-year-olds, the average [mathematics] score in 2008 was not measurably different from the scores in either 2004 or 1973.
  • about three-quarters of the 2003 freshman class graduated from public high schools on time in 2006


  • In 2007, about 1.5 million, or 2.9 percent of all school-aged children in the United States were homeschooled.
  • This number has increased from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003.
  • In 2007, 36 percent of parents of homeschooled children cited a desire to provide religious or moral instruction as the most important reason for homeschooling their child, followed by 21 percent who cited concerns about school environments, and 17 percent who were dissatisfied with academic instruction.


Looking next at college enrollment, the percentage of students who enroll in college right after high school increased from 49 percent in 1972 to 67 percent in 2007.

Approximately 58 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2000–01 completed a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent at that institution within 6 years
  • the top field for bachelor's degree earners was business, which accounted for 21 percent of degrees awarded.
  • Social science and history was the next largest field at 11 percent;
  • followed by education and health professions and related sciences, each of which accounted for 7 percent of degrees awarded;
  • the next largest fields were psychology and visual and performing arts at 6 percent each;
  • followed by engineering, communication, and the biological sciences at 5 percent each.
In 2007, young adults with a bachelor's degree earned about $45,000 a year.
  • This is about $10,000 more than those with an associate's degree,
  • About $16,000 more than those who had completed high school, and
  • About twice as much as those who did not earn a high school diploma.

Briefing on the Condition of Education 2009
the condition of education web site

down and out in San Diego

from the Weekly Standard:

There he was, Bill Ayers himself, sitting in a Marriott conference room waiting to partake in a session of the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).


[H]e is something of an AERA celebrity these days, having been elected vice president of its curriculum-studies division--which specializes in research on what teachers teach, both at the ed-school level and in the K-12 classrooms where most ed-school graduates find employment. He participated in no fewer than seven panels and events at this year's convention. AERA, by the way, with 25,000 members, is the leading scholarly organization for professors at U.S. education schools--the people who teach the teachers who teach your children. Its annual meeting drew nearly 14,000 people to the San Diego Convention Center in April.


At this particular session, titled "Public Pedagogy and Social Action: Examinations and Portraits," Ayers was chairman of the panel.


The room quieted when William Schubert, a black-clad, armband-wearing fellow education professor at Illinois-Chicago, introduced the social-action theme of the session by declaring, "The project of education is the project of composing a life."

After a few dismissive words apparently aimed at the practice of requiring education majors to obtain a basic arts-and-sciences grounding alongside their pedagogic fare, Schubert introduced the first panelist, Jennifer April Sandlin of Arizona State. Her research had consisted of email interviews with Reverend Billy, an Elvis-haired anti-Wal-Mart street preacher who is currently running as Green party candidate for mayor of New York and whom Sandlin presented as an example of public pedagogy.

Sandlin's interview questions, laminated in triple-clad academic jargon, had evidently flummoxed Reverend Billy. "Why don't you professors stop leaning further and further into your private world?" he had complained in an email to Sandlin. Her explication of the preacher's message, aided by her coresearcher, Jake Burdick, included the following words and phrases: "bounded space," "reinscribe," "alterity," "counter-hegemonic," "imperialistic legacy," "Euro-Western perspective," "polymodal discourse," "the politics of representation," "reflexivity of discomfort," "legitimization," "colonized," "transgressive," and "the dialogic process of being human." I knew how Reverend Billy felt.


Finally Ayers rose to speak--delivering an impromptu-sounding ramble that had little to do with murals or creativity in classrooms. He named his two heroes: "Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk." He voiced dialectical doubts: "Multicultural education started in insurgency against pedagogical racism," he declared. "Then it became the new norm. We have to ask: What are the dogmas that we're creating now?"

On that last point I was in hearty agreement.

math wars

During my four days at the AERA meeting, I vainly searched for a single session whose panelists expressed some dissent from the baseline principle of progressive education: that teachers shouldn't directly impart information to their students but instead function as "guides," gently coaching them to "construct" their own knowledge about the subject at hand out of what they already know or don't know.

"Everyone here is a constructivist," Gabriel Reich, a genial education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told me at a reception sponsored by the John Dewey Society. (Dewey, a pragmatist philosopher who died in 1952 and taught for years at Columbia Teachers College, is regarded, alongside the Swiss cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, as one of the fathers of progressive education.) Reich was trying to explain to me why it was presumptuous for professional mathematicians (and many parents) to be up in arms about the currently fashionable constructivist idea that instead of explaining to youngsters, say, how to do long division, teachers should let them count, subtract, make an educated guess, or otherwise figure out their own ways to solve division problems. College math professors may complain that young people taught the constructivist way arrive in their classrooms unable to perform the basic operations necessary to move on to calculus, but so what? "Why should we privilege professional mathematicians?" Reich asked. Long division, multiplication--"those are just algorithms, and a calculator can do them faster than we can. Most of the people here at this meeting don't think of themselves as good at math, and they don't think math is creative. [The constructivist approach] is a way to make math creative for many people who never thought of it that way."

There are no wrong answers in constructivist theory, so Reich, pursuing his mathematical theme, had a tough sell the next day when he presented a paper to his fellow educators arguing that the principles of constructivism should be modified a bit in teaching arithmetic. "I know some constructivists might take issue with what I'm saying," was his delicate way of telling his audience that when a student says two and two equals five, there might be a problem, if only with the child's non-constructivist parents who might have "right-answer" concerns. Reich was suggesting that the youngster's incorrect (or "incorrect") answer be "vetted by the class" to see if it "works." That way, he explained, "the students are learning to act as members of a mathematical community--they are becoming mathematicians."

and PowerPoint

Another session, titled "Teaching and Assessing 21st-Century Skills," was premised on the idea that schools ought to focus, not on imparting content--such as history, science, and so forth--but on getting their students up to speed on how to function in the fast-changing employment market of the 21st century by learning how to use computers and how to work with their fellows on a "project" (that is what people do at their jobs nowadays, isn't it?). Once young people get their 21st-century skills down, the thinking goes, they can learn and plug in whatever specific knowledge they need: math, physics, and engineering if they're designing a bike path, and so forth. Addressing an audience of nearly a hundred people (a huge crowd for AERA), the six advocates for "project-based learning," as it is called, fairly bristled with Dilbert-esque office lingo as they urged teachers to turn their classrooms into replicas of technology-intense workplaces: "deliverables," "teamwork," "feedback," "use cases," "design patterns," "meta-cognitive," "framing," "the next level of learning." They had also mastered that 21st-century skill par excellence: the PowerPoint presentation, read aloud line by line and bullet point by bullet point. Indeed, a PowerPoint screen displaying a verbatim version of the speech plus more bullets than flew at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre was a feature of nearly every AERA session I attended.

reform, too

At the AERA sessions, I lived in an ideological Bizarro World in which "school reform" did not mean improving classroom instruction but rather, handing over multimillion-dollar state grants (in Illinois) to the control of, among other entities, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)--a group being prosecuted for alleged voter-registration fraud in the 2008 election--so that ACORN can help direct the subsidization of the candidates of its choice for ed-school training. It was a world in which at a session on Queer Theory, one teacher-panelist announced, "I'll sometimes ask my students, 'Why can't a girl have a penis?' and you know, they start asking themselves the same question: Why can't a girl have a penis? Why can't a girl with a penis wear a skirt?"
'Why Can't a Girl Have a Penis?' and other major issues in educational research.
by Charlotte Allen
05/18/2009, Volume 014, Issue 33

They're none too keen on Teach for America, either.

what is indirect instruction?

now you know

children with large vocabularies

Phonics is considered a "bottom up" approach where students "decode" the meaning of a text. The advantage of phonics, especially for students who come to schools with large vocabularies, is that once students get the basics down, they can go to the library and read a wide variety of children's literature.

The Reading Wars: Phonics vs Whole Language: Phonics
by Jon Reyhner, a phonics skeptic

That certainly explains why my district, heavily populated by small children possessing large vocabularies, would be dumping Open Court for Fountas and Pinnell.

missed the memo

End of the reading wars.

In the past seven years, a new view of reading instruction has taken hold in school districts nationwide.

The issue these days isn't whether "phonics" or "whole language" is the better approach for beginning readers, but how to blend those philosophies and other elements in a reading program tailored to the individual child.

For a growing group of educators, the reading wars, waged so ferociously in the 1980s and '90s, are past. Or at least passe.

"I think more schools are moving toward a balanced literacy program," said Tina Chekan, co-principal and literacy coach at Propel McKeesport, a charter elementary school. Propel also operates elementary schools in Homestead, Kennedy and Turtle Creek.

"There's not one program that fits all," she said. "We know that our students are on varying ability levels. We work to really focus on the individual."


Some educators now downplay the significance of the reading wars, calling them the over-publicized rants of academic extremists. Dr. Roller, of the International Reading Association, considers the wars a dead issue.

"I wish somebody would hold a big funeral service and bury this casket," she said.

I don't think that's going to happen. 

precise & fluent thoughts

le radical galoisien writes:
For a writing system to express precise and fluent thoughts, it must be dependent on sound -- because that is the basis of communication. Sure there's art and music ... but you can't really communicate fluent and precise ideas with them, only gists. Could you communicate something like Newton's laws of physics to someone who didn't know them based on a picture, or a series of pictures?

That's what I thought!

Thank you!

This may be the aspect of 'balanced literacy' that makes me most crazy: the obsession with 'meaning.' For balanced literacy folk, reading is about extracting meaning from texts. That's if you're lucky; here in my district reading in Kindergarten is now about 'making meaning' from texts. So we are told.

Having Kindergarten children who can't read spend their time extracting meaning from (authentic!) texts is nonsense on stilts. The simple fact is that you cannot extract meaning from text without knowing what the words on the page are, which means knowing the sounds for which the printed words stand.

Spoken language is sound; printed language is a visual representation of sound. It is a translation of an aural medium into a visual medium. Like cued speech.

Thus, your basic 5-year old learning to read does not need to know the 'meaning' of the letters c-a-t. He needs to know the sounds that the letters c-a-t stand for; he needs to know that the letters c-a-t stand for the spoken word kat, or kæt in the IPA spelling.

That's because your basic 5-year old already knows the meaning of 'cat.' Seriously. Both my autistic kids knew what a cat was at age 5. They knew what a cat was at age 2, for god's sake.

What they didn't know was that the letters c-a-t, printed on a page, stood for the spoken word kat. That was the missing knowledge, not 'what is a cat?' or 'what do you make of cats?' or 'what is the author saying about cats?'

(Andrew also had to learn that the spoken word 'cat' stood for the animal. For many years he had severe auditory processing problems, if that is the correct term. I assume he still does. What I don't know - what I'd like to know - is whether he and Jimmy also have some kind of 'core' deficit in language per se. Why can't they talk? Is it because they can't 'hear' & thus can't learn the grammar of the English language the way typical children do, or is it because of .... something worse. I don't know.)

Back on topic: I remember, a couple of years ago, watching an online video of Siegfried Engelmann saying kids should be taught to read words in isolation. (Pretty sure that's what he said.) I remember finding that almost a scandalous statement at the time, and although I was inclined to take on faith anything Siegfried Engelmann said, I experienced a mild failure of nerve contemplating the image of young children reading aloud lists of words in isolation, outside of "connected text." I'd been too long in the public schools not to have had drilled into my very soul the notion that teaching anything in isolation is wicked.

It wasn't until I enlisted in the reading wars that I realized what Engelmann was talking about: he was talking about the fact that printed language is a representation of, or code for, spoken language. Printed words represent spoken words. Not meanings. Kids need to be able to read words fluently strictly from the printed letters on the page, without any context to "help" them. All good readers are able to read words outside of context.

This is not to say that good readers -- fast readers -- don't use context. They do:
Confirming the psychologists and educators who emphasize phonics, mechanistic letter decoding, L, accounts for the lion’s share (62%) of the adult reading rate. This is recognition by parts. Holistic word recognition, W, accounts for only a small fraction (16%) of reading rate. The contextual sentence process, S,* accounts for 22% of reading rate, on average, but is variable across readers (mean +/- SD= 87630 word/min), which may reflect individual differences in print exposure.


Understanding individual differences in reading rate would be invaluable. The breakdown in Table 2 compares the contributions of each process across observers. There is surprisingly little difference in the contributions of each of the 3 processes across our group of 11 normal readers. However, note that observers JS and KT, our fastest readers, also have the highest percent contribution of the S (context) process. This supports the idea that the context process reflects differences in print exposure [19]. Even so, these readers are fast mostly because their L processes are fast.

Parts, Wholes, and Context in Reading: A Triple Dissociation by Denis G. Pelli*, Katharine A. Tillman
PLOS One August 2007 Issue 8
Fast readers are fast phonetic readers who also use context and word shape.

International Phonetic Association
International Phonetic Alphabet
(pdf file)
Thank You, Whole Language at Illinois Loop
Whole Language Lives on by Louisa Moats
Whole Language High Jinks by Louisa Moats

* "Contextual sentence process" = context, i.e. the meaning of the preceding text. When a fast reader reads the next word (partly) on the basis of the meaning of what he has read thus far, he is using "S." If you're reading a blog post about balanced literacy and you spot an upcoming word that starts with 'ba' you're going to very rapidly read 'balanced' instead of, say, 'ballast.' 

the Ravitch fallacy


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Computer glasses

Totally OT (or is it?) but I just got computer glasses. Business glasses, actually, which are for computer work and reading, but not distance. To be distinguished from "office glasses" which are for computer and keyboard (who looks at their keyboard?).

Anyway, to you folks who spend as much time reading and blogging as I do (and you know who you are) and who wear progressive lenses, go out today, get your eyes checked, and order up a pair. It's amazing what a difference they make.

Bob Compton likes surprises

After 30 years and six Blue Ribbon panels how can .. discussion [of the challenges facing America's public education system] be "ground breaking." Have some new, unknown challenges suddenly sprung up??

As Intel CEO Craig Barrett - who served on 4 of the 6 Blue Ribbon panel - has stated publicly, all the reports say the same thing. There has not been a fresh idea in 30 years. We know the problems - we just don't have the guts to address them.

Unless you consider it gutsy to use celebrity influencers as the way to "maximize the potential of our nation's young minds - expensive, yes. Gutsy...I think not.

If America would just listen to Craig Barrett we'd be half way to a world class education. The steps are simple:

1- set the curriculum to the same level of difficulty as your economic competitors (sort of like training to win in a globally competitive sport - train as intensely as your competitors and you may have a shot)

2- hire teachers with Masters degrees in the discipline they are to teach and then coach them on being effective teachers. It is much easier to coach an MS in Physics on how to teach, than to coach an Education major to be a physicist. Try it at home; see for yourself.

3- measure results - use the AP exams as national standards and test to see how students and teachers are progressing.

Has anyone other than a few US Charter schools (and 400 million Indians and Chinese) tried that simple formula?

ding! ding! ding!

I know the answer to that.

The Jesuits.

(How did I not know Bob Compton had a blog??)

Advanced Placement

terrific info on Advanced Placement courses & college admissions / college credit in this Comment thread

means of transmission

EDUCATION trends have three means of transmission, all invisible to the public: the sale of textbooks and other instructional materials, teaching in schools of education, and teacher-training seminars conducted during the paid noninstructional days that are provided in teachers' contracts. As superintendent in California, [Bill] Honig realized that he couldn't directly affect what was taught in schools of education, because they are independent of the state board of education, and so if he wanted to have any real influence over what went on in public-school classrooms, the best means at hand were textbooks and seminars. He moved aggressively to put his people in charge both of setting up California's eight annual "staff development" days for teachers and of writing state subject-matter "frameworks," which form the basis for textbook orders.

The Reading Wars by Nicholas Lemann
Atlantic Monthly November 1997
Thus was born the California Subject Matter Project. Ed headed the History Social Science Project; Phil Daro, currently a member of the mathematics Work Group for the Common Core national standards effort, was in charge of the Mathematics Project.

The Subject Matter Projects gave teachers professional development in the form of seminars taught by disciplinary specialists. History teachers took seminars given by history professors, not consultants. Ed says today that, at the time, he had no idea how radical Honig's concept was.

Me, neither.

Project D.A.R.E.

At last!

All in one place: Project D.A.R.E. Fact Sheet

thanks to: Megan McArdle 

C. was not only required to take Project D.A.R.E. when he was in 5th grade, he and his classmates attended a Project D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony.

Monday, August 10, 2009

book learning

71% see book learning as key to success

Fifteen percent (15%) say street smarts are more important, and 14% are not sure which is better.


More than eight-out-of-10 adults who earn more than $75,000 per year say book learning is more important than street smarts, higher than for any other income groups.
I'd love to see this question asked of a) classroom teachers, b) administrators, c) education school professors, d) educational consultants, and e) VENDORS. I'm guessing teachers would be much closer to the public than the other three.

In any event, the fact that 71% of the public thinks book learning* is the secret to success while 86% of education professors told Public Agenda that, "The process of learning is more important ... than whether or not students absorb specific knowledge," tells you parents and taxpayers need a vote. A vote and a veto, preferably.

the struggle

While I'm constructing my survey wish list, I'd like to know how many parents would sign off on this sentiment:
Nearly 9 in 10 (86%) say when K-12 teachers assign math or history questions, it is more important for kids to struggle with the process of finding the right answers than knowing the right answer.

students must struggle

* I am assuming that by "book learning" parents mean learning and remembering, i.e. the acquisition of knowledge

Evidence for cooperative learning?

In defense of requiring his students to work in groups, a teacher (posting at recently cited the following, from Johnson, Johnson, and Stanne (2000):
Cooperative learning has been around a long time (Johnson, 1970; Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1999). It will probably never go away due to its rich history of theory, research, and actual use in the classroom. Markedly different theoretical perspectives (social interdependence, cognitive-developmental, and behavioral learning) provide a clear rationale as to why cooperative efforts are essential for maximizing learning and ensuring healthy cognitive and social development as well as many other important instructional outcomes. Hundreds of research studies demonstrate that cooperative efforts result in higher individual achievement than do competitive or individualistic efforts. Educators use cooperative learning throughout North America, Europe, and many other parts of the world. This combination of theory, research, and practice makes cooperative learning one of the most distinguished of all instructional practices.
Here, cooperative learning is defined as follows:
Cooperative learning exists when students work together to accomplish shared learning goals (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). Each student can then achieve his or her learning goal if and only if the other group members achieve theirs (Deutsch, 1962).
You can read the whole meta-analysis here.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how reliable this meta-analysis is (it seems to be unpublished, only appearing on the University of Minnesota Cooperative Learning Center website, and finds Johnson & Johnson's own method, Learning Together, most effective), or whether there's any research on cooperative learning that contradicts its conclusions?