kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/16/11 - 1/23/11

Saturday, January 22, 2011

onward and upward


ME: Hey! What did M. say about the SAT?

C: He said it wasn't that bad!

ME: Really?

C: Yeah!

ME: That's great! D. said it wasn't that bad, either!

C. Yeah, he said it wasn't too hard. He skipped the whole last section.

dumbest thing I ever said

Dumbest thing I ever said: "Is there a political movement against charter schools for suburban kids?

On the front page in today's New York Times: On Upper West Side, Hurdles for Charter School

Parents, Acorn and the unions organizing against a charter school.

The grounds?

A charter school would be bad for the public schools.

It's never about the kids.

at least I got this one right

On August 20:

I keep thinking the politics of choice will be affected by the economy. Charter schools (and vouchers) are cheaper than public schools, and parents are happier (or at least spend fewer years of their lives being unhappy - pdf file).

Same academic outcomes for less money, with less stress on the family: put it that way, some of us are going to take that deal.

Looks like Eva Moskowitz had the same idea:

The guests sipped wine and nibbled sushi, guacamole and Gruy√®re — lawyers, bankers, preschool teachers, managers and consultants of various kinds, bound by the anxious decision they must confront in the months ahead: where their 4-year-olds will go to school in the fall.

Downstairs, a flier by the doorman’s desk had greeted them with a provocative question: “Why should you have to spend college tuition on kindergarten?” Back upstairs, in the stylish apartment on West 99th Street, Eva S. Moskowitz, a former City Council member who runs a network of charter schools in Harlem and the Bronx, delivered a tantalizing sales talk.

“Middle-class families need options too,” she said.

sorry, Johnny

Friday, January 21, 2011

little sister

QUESTION: Your method may work with children with a native high IQ—but demanding that kind of excellence from less intelligent children seems unfair and a fool's errand. Demanding hard work and a great effort from children is the best middle ground we can reach philosophically, isn't it? Your thoughts?

Jokes about A+s and gold medals aside (much of my book is tongue-in-cheek, making fun of myself), I don't believe that grades or achievement is ultimately what Chinese parenting (at least as I practice it) is really about. I think it's about helping your children be the best they can be—which is usually better than they think! It's about believing in your child more than anyone else—even more than they believe in themselves. And this principle can be applied to any child, of any level of ability. My youngest sister, Cindy, has Down syndrome, and I remember my mother spending hours and hours with her, teaching her to tie her shoelaces on her own, drilling multiplication tables with Cindy, practicing piano every day with her. No one expected Cindy to get a Ph.D.! But my mom wanted her to be the best she could be, within her limits. Today, my sister works at Wal-Mart, has a boyfriend and still plays piano—one of her favorite things is performing for her friends. She and my mom have a wonderful relationship, and we all love her for who she is.

Tiger Mother Talks Back
January 15, 2011

the myth of regurgitation

Educators rely heavily on learning activities that encourage elaborative studying, while activities that require students to practice retrieving and reconstructing knowledge are used less frequently. Here, we show that practicing retrieval produces greater gains in meaningful learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. The advantage of retrieval practice generalized across texts identical to those commonly found in science education. The advantage of retrieval practice was observed with test questions that assessed comprehension and required students to make inferences. The advantage of retrieval practice occurred even when the criterial test involved creating concept maps. Our findings support the theory that retrieval practice enhances learning by retrieval-specific mechanisms rather than by elaborative study processes. Retrieval practice is an effective tool to promote conceptual learning about science.

Most thought on human learning is guided by a few tacit assumptions. One assumption is that learning happens primarily when people encode knowledge and experiences. A
related assumption is that retrieval—the active, cue-driven process of reconstructing knowledge—only measures the products of a prior learning experience but does not itself produce learning. Just as we assume that the act of measuring a physical object would not change the size, shape, or weight of the object, so too people often assume that the act of measuring memory does not change memory (1, 2). Thus most educational research and practice has focused on enhancing the processing that occurs when students encode knowledge – that is, getting knowledge "in memory". Far less attention has been paid to the potential importance of retrieval to the process of learning. Indeed, recent National Research Council books about how students learn in educational settings (3–5) contain no mention of retrieval processes.

It is beyond question that activities that promote effective encoding, known as elaborative study tasks, are important for learning (6). However, research in cognitive science has challenged the assumption that retrieval is neutral and
uninfluential in the learning process (7–11). Not only does retrieval produce learning, but a retrieval event may actually represent a more powerful learning activity than an encoding event. This research suggests a conceptualization of mind and learning that is different from one in which encoding places knowledge in memory and retrieval simply accesses that stored knowledge. Because each act of retrieval changes memory, the act of reconstructing knowledge must be considered essential to the process of learning. Most prior research on retrieval practice has been conducted in the verbal learning tradition of memory research (12). The materials used have often not reflected the complex information students learn in actual educational settings (13).

Most prior research has not used assessments thought to measure meaningful learning, which refers to students' abilities to make inferences and exhibit deep understanding of concepts (14, 15).


[B]oth elaborative concept mapping and retrieval practice are active learning tasks, and our results make it clear that whether a task is considered "active" is not diagnostic of how much learning the task will produce.

The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning
Jeffrey D. Karpicke* and Janell R. Blunt
Sciencexpress Report / 20 January 2011 / Page 1 / 10.1126/science.1199327

Although I read the research that came out a couple of years ago on learning-via-testing, I hadn't absorbed the idea that testing is a form of studying.

Years ago, I learned the distinction between recall (remembering an actor's name, say) and recognition (recognizing an actor's name when you hear it). Recall is harder.

I thought the learning-testing effect was a simple matter of working on recall as opposed to recognition.

Looks like it's not. Remembering always means reconstructing.

news flash: There's no such thing as regurgitating facts.

daily quizzes beat concept maps

an oldie but goodie: the Gambill method

a concept map

Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping

"Test-taking cements knowledge" at Education Quick Takes

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

daughter of Chinese mom

Dear Tiger Mom,

You’ve been criticized a lot since you published your memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” One problem is that some people don’t get your humor. They think you’re serious about all this, and they assume Lulu and I are oppressed by our evil mother. That is so not true. Every other Thursday, you take off our chains and let us play math games in the basement.

But for real, it’s not their fault. No outsider can know what our family is really like. They don’t hear us cracking up over each other’s jokes. They don’t see us eating our hamburgers with fried rice. They don’t know how much fun we have when the six of us — dogs included — squeeze into one bed and argue about what movies to download from Netflix.

I admit it: Having you as a mother was no tea party. There were some play dates I wish I’d gone to and some piano camps I wish I’d skipped. But now that I’m 18 and about to leave the tiger den, I’m glad you and Daddy raised me the way you did. Here’s why.

A lot of people have accused you of producing robot kids who can’t think for themselves. Well, that’s funny, because I think those people are . . . oh well, it doesn’t matter. At any rate, I was thinking about this, and I came to the opposite conclusion: I think your strict parenting forced me to be more independent. Early on, I decided to be an easy child to raise. Maybe I got it from Daddy — he taught me not to care what people think and to make my own choices — but I also decided to be who I want to be. I didn’t rebel, but I didn’t suffer all the slings and arrows of a Tiger Mom, either. I pretty much do my own thing these days — like building greenhouses downtown, blasting Daft Punk in the car with Lulu and forcing my boyfriend to watch “Lord of the Rings” with me over and over — as long as I get my piano done first.

Everybody’s talking about the birthday cards we once made for you, which you rejected because they weren’t good enough. Funny how some people are convinced that Lulu and I are scarred for life. Maybe if I had poured my heart into it, I would have been upset. But let’s face it: The card was feeble, and I was busted. It took me 30 seconds; I didn’t even sharpen the pencil. That’s why, when you rejected it, I didn’t feel you were rejecting me. If I actually tried my best at something, you’d never throw it back in my face.

I remember walking on stage for a piano competition. I was so nervous, and you whispered, “Soso, you worked as hard as you could. It doesn’t matter how you do.”


Another criticism I keep hearing is that you’re somehow promoting tunnel vision, but you and Daddy taught me to pursue knowledge for its own sake. In junior year, I signed myself up for a military-history elective (yes, you let me take lots of classes besides math and physics). One of our assignments was to interview someone who had experienced war. I knew I could get a good grade interviewing my grandparents, whose childhood stories about World War II I’d heard a thousand times. I mentioned it to you, and you said, “Sophia, this is an opportunity to learn something new. You’re taking the easy way out.” You were right, Tiger Mom. In the end, I interviewed a terrifying Israeli paratrooper whose story changed my outlook on life. I owe that experience to you.

There’s one more thing: I think the desire to live a meaningful life is universal. To some people, it’s working toward a goal. To others, it’s enjoying every minute of every day. So what does it really mean to live life to the fullest? Maybe striving to win a Nobel Prize and going skydiving are just two sides of the same coin. To me, it’s not about achievement or self-gratification. It’s about knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential. You feel it when you’re sprinting, and when the piano piece you’ve practiced for hours finally comes to life beneath your fingertips. You feel it when you encounter a life-changing idea, and when you do something on your own that you never thought you could. If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 percent.

And for that, Tiger Mom, thank you.

Why I Love My Strict Chinese Mom
New York Post

Monday, January 17, 2011

NY salary grid

We were talking about "grid raises" in a comment thread. Here's an example of a teacher salary grid:  

Taylor Made: The Cost and Consequences of New York's Public-Sector Labor Laws
by Terry O'Neil and E.J. McMahon 
scroll down for pdf file

from the report:
Teacher salary schedules in New York State typically include 20 to 30 annual pay “steps” on each of at least four “lanes”-- for teachers with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, master’s plus 30 credits of graduate credits, and a master’s plus 60 credits. The following is a simplified example; many districts actually have more steps and lanes than shown here.

Most teachers spend most of their careers moving up salary steps—and, occasionally, across salary lanes—even if their union contract has expired, because the Triborough Amendment guarantees these changes. As a result, a school district’s salary costs rise even when union negotiations have reached impasse and there is no new contract. For the same reason, contract settlements calling for seemingly modest, inflation-level increases in base salaries can be far more costly than they look. This is especially true in districts with predominantly younger teaching staffs.

Figure 8 illustrates the projected 10-year pay history of a newly hired teacher, fresh out of college, working in a district with a salary schedule matching the reported medians for all Suffolk County districts in 2006-07. Assuming the teacher earns a master’s degree within two years—a prerequisite for certification—and assuming all base salary steps also increase annually by 2.6 percent under the union contract, her salary by Step 6 will reach $68,753, a pay boost of 58 percent after five years. Even if the salary schedule is frozen at 2006-07 levels due to a contract impasse, the Triborough Law guarantees that the Step 6 salary for a certified teacher with the same level of experience will reach $60,472, an increase of 39 percent in five years.

Earning 30 more graduate or “in-service” credits by the end of her sixth year will move the teacher up yet another lane on the salary schedule. Assuming continued annual inflation-level increases in base steps, the salary for this teacher in the “Masters + 30” lane by Step 10 will reach $100,687—an increase of 132 percent after 10 years on the job. Even if the salary schedule remained frozen throughout the period, Triborough would guarantee that the teacher’s pay by Step 10 reached $77,893—an increase of 79 percent from Step 1. By tacking on another 30 graduate or in-service credits during this period, the teacher could move to the “Masters + 60” lane and climb the ladder even faster, reaching $122,000 in her 11th year assuming continued inflation-level increases in base salaries.

cyberspace jabberama

Just found this phrase - cyberspace jabberama - in a Boris Johnson column.

Love it!

I put it right up there with codswallop, a word I learned from a book on British slang that I bought last year. I recommend it:

Knickers in a Twist: A Dictionary of British Slang


Just heard from a friend who saw this billboard on the way in to the city:
NYC:  where people are openly gay and secretly Republican

Trench Warfare on the Board of Ed

Peter Meyer at Education Next:
I couldn’t believe it.

John, the new board of education president, had just proposed that we move “Old Business” to the beginning of our meetings.

I had spent roughly a year-and-a-half arguing that it made no sense to put Old Business at the end of each school board meeting, which usually arrived about 10pm, the third hour of these star chambers of modern public education. By then, most people, including the lone reporter, had gone home.  That, of course, was the point: Old Business was dirty laundry, things not done. Why flaunt it?

I had gotten nowhere with my arguments because my colleagues on the school board thought I was the devil.  I was the infamous “rogue” board member, the person that school board associations give seminars about. Not a team player. The local paper wrote an editorial about me that prompted a friend, after church, to remark, “I’ve seen kinder things said about murderers.”


Needless to say, my new colleagues were not looking forward to the prospect of sharing executive sessions with me. And, after being sworn in, they went out of their way to keep me in the dark. If the superintendent recommended hiring a new teacher and I asked to see the candidate’s resume, a motion was quickly made that school board did not want to see said resume. It passed, 6 to 1. When a special board meeting was called to approve $25 million in construction contracts, I asked to see the contracts. “I make a motion that the board does not look at the contracts,” said one of my colleagues. “I second that, said another.” Another defeat, 6 to 1.

One of my favorites was Board Policy #2510. It was titled NEW BOARD MEMBER-ELECT ORIENTATION and it said, in part, that “Each Board member-elect shall, as soon as possible, … be given selected materials of the previous year covering the function of the Board and the school district, including (a) policy manual, (b) copies of key reports prepared during the previous year by school Board committees and/or the administration, (c) the School Law handbook prepared by the New York State School Boards Association, (d) access to minutes of Board meetings of the previous year, (e) latest financial report of the district, and (f) copies of pertinent materials developed by the New York State School Boards Association….”

My orientation consisted of the board president and superintendent sitting me down and saying, “You’re not getting anything.” And so it went.

I once read the board’s orientation policy, out loud, at a public meeting, to the regional superintendent, a lawyer. “Aren’t school boards supposed to follow their own policies?” I asked. “The board can do whatever it wants,” he said. I was shocked, because board policies are, in fact, laws and have to be followed–or changed.

He might have said, “whatever it can get away with.” But his comment reminded me of a fundamental truth about public school systems: the buck stops with the people.
administration spends $50K without board vote
"it's just about statistically impossible that a bid would come in at exactly $50K"
fields exchange at BOE meeting
school boards behaving badly
board member FOILs district docs
trench warfare on the board of ed

trench warfare on the board of ed

Peter Meyer:
Re: [irvingtonparentsforum] Re: Is the Board violating the law?

To answer the question as straightforwardly as possible, as I read "the law," no individual board member has a right to do much of anything, including look at documents. Thus, you have to force the issue at a board meeting by getting the board to request the documents or, as an individual, file a FOIL request. (I am not a lawyer, so this is my opinion based on years, on and off the board, of fighting these battles.)

There is something which says any board member can ask for and see personnel records if a good reason is given (I'm sorry I'm not at my desk and can't quote chapter and verse), but when I tried that (we had teachers up for tenure), they claimed my reason wasn't good enough! This is real trench warfare up here, where most board members are afraid of their own shadow and being "a rogue" or a boat-rocker is considered a danger to the school. Thus, on some issues I have to shoot each arrow in the quiver -- demand the board vote, FOIL, and a letter to the editor. It's time consuming, of course, but if you're consistent about it (and civil), you won't need so many arrows for the next battle/request.

Because "the law" is so strange and complicated -- and stacked in favor of the status quo and those "leaders" of the status quo -- this stuff gets to be very personal. So, it helps to smile a lot while fighting. (I now know why Senators call their enemies across the aisle, "My dear colleague" -- though I don't know why Boehner cries all the time.)


administration spends $50K without board vote
"it's just about statistically impossible that a bid would come in at exactly $50K"
fields exchange at BOE meeting
school boards behaving badly
board member FOILs district docs
trench warfare on the board of ed

they do what they do

Peter Meyer at the Parents Forum:

I hate to be cynical about this, but my BOCES guy has it about right: "the law" says (by implication, obfuscation, and contradiction) that the board can do whatever it wants -- until the Commissioner (or surrogate) says that you can't -- and even that's disputable. So, in this situation, where a board member is denied information, you have 2 choices: the FOIL route or the public embarrassment route (you make a motion, at an official BOE meeting, that the Super give you copies of the docs).

Keep in mind too, that the lawyer's maxim applies: if you have the facts, argue the facts; if you have the law, argue the law.



administration spends $50K without board vote
"it's just about statistically impossible that a bid would come in at exactly $50K"
fields exchange at BOE meeting
school boards behaving badly
board member FOILs district docs

board member Foils district docs


I am formally requesting copies of all documents related to the Upper Dows Lane field including the original board approval and all associated documents, the bid documents, the documents pertaining the to recent $50,000 change order, and copies of the checks along with all the approvals to pay those checks including those from the claims auditor. Also, give me any documents related to putting this construction project to a vote by the community. If the decision was made that such a vote was unnecessary, give me the documents related to that decision.

Last night I learned for the first time that the change order was necessitated by a mistake made by the architect. Please include everything that documents that mistake along with the contract or letter of engagement made with the architect.

In an email dated Nov. 23, 2010, I wrote, “I want to see all of the documents leading up to this and a written analysis by you of where we went wrong. I don’t want to have to figure it out myself, which will only lead to a more time-consuming exercise. I will also want to see past board resolutions and the minutes anytime this was discussed in a board meeting.” I received no response. In an email sent yesterday, I asked Jim to “bring me a complete copy of all the documents associated with this project including the original board approvals. I would like it tonight at the board meeting.” Again, I received no response.

I am now formally requesting that information under a Freedom of Information Law request. (I did not put this in the subject line since the school’s email system seems to automatically send such requests to spam.) You might decide to provide the documentation to all board members free of charge. If, on the other hand, you decide to provide it to me only, please send it by pdf to minimize my out-of-pocket costs.

As I said last night, the administration’s failure to give me the documentation on this transaction has made it impossible for me to exercise my fiduciary duty, and that is unacceptable.

Robyne Camp
re: Is the board violating the law?

administration spends $50K without board vote
"it's just about statistically impossible that a bid would come in at exactly $50K"
fields exchange at BOE meeting
school boards behaving badly

news from nowhere, part 3

the fields exchange at last Tuesday night's board meeting

school boards behaving badly

Peter Meyer responding to David Kaplan.

And here is Ed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Steve H on "extreme non-pushing"

I mentioned in a previous comment thread that permissive parenting, which is not as effective as authoritative parenting, means "letting children learn from their mistakes."

Here is Steve H's take on laissez faire parenting:
As our son gets older, he has to be the one to set the line for himself, but he is not ready yet to go into the deep end of the pool without us watching. We also have to show him where the line is. In music, he can't just listen to his friends and relatives. He has to know what the Sophia Chuas are playing in competitions at each age level. He has to be realistic about how he fits in the world. This can't be left to chance or his own ideas of excellence. We could let him learn from his mistakes, but some mistakes can't be fixed. My wife and I had another discussion about the risk of mistakes just the other day.

My parents had a completely hands-off approach to our education. Since we never got poor grades, they never did anything. My brother and I talked years ago about how we wished that they did a lot more. We felt very ignorant and naive when we got to college.

Our father taught about jet/rocket engines at Pratt & Whitney. He never told me a thing about it or what he was doing at Cape Canaveral in the 1960s. I didn't know a thing about engineering until I was a sophomore in college.

People get upset about the Amy Chuas, but you have to see how awful (and invisible) the other side of the issue is. If kids don't learn, then it must be their fault, or their parents, or their peers, or society. Extreme non-pushing is so much more of a problem because people have no feedback. They can't see the problem. They think it's a matter of engagement or self-motivation.

Constructivism is consistent with permissive parenting, at least in my district, where the h.s. principal says that students are "young adults" who must "learn from their mistakes."

The great charter schools, I believe, are consistent with authoritative parenting.

cat vs internet

at The Oatmeal

My niece sent me the link.

news from nowhere, part 2

a likely story

Math competition for grades 1 through 6

A friend is seeking information about math competitions for grades 1-6.  Does anyone have specific knowledge or experience with these?  Are some better known than others are?  Any advice on which one is the best?  Are there significant differences in the types of questions asked?

Here are some that appear to be popular:

Some previous KTM math competition discussions:

Why we can't trust math professors...

At least on k12 math education...

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field

Consider the following math professors: Keith Devlin (Stanford), who wants grade schools to de-emphasize calculation skills; Dennis DeTurck (Penn), who wants grades schools to stop teaching fractions; and Jordan Ellenberg (University of Wisconsin) and Andrew Hodges (Oxford), who criticize grade school math as overly rote and abstract. And consider all the math professors featured in these three recent Youtube videos (an extended infomercial for the so-called "Moore Method," yet another re-branding of guide-on-the-side teaching and student-centered discovery learning--thanks to Barry Garelick for pointing me to these!).

Every last one of these math professors sounds like yet another apologist for Constructivist Reform Math. Each one of them can be--and in some cases is--readily cited by Reform Math acolytes and by the Reform Math-crazed media as such. And, yet, had these professors actually been subjected to Reform Math when they were students, it's hard to imagine that any of them would have enjoyed the subject enough to pursue it beyond grade school.

Indeed, unless the mathematician in question has actually sat down and looked at the Reform Math curricula in detail, and imagined him or herself subjected to it, year after year, in all its slow-moving, mixed-ability-groupwork, explain-your-answer-to-easy problems glory, we should not trust what he or she has to say about it. Indeed mathematicians in general, unless (like Howe and Klein and Ma and Milgram and Wu) they take the time to examine what's going on with actual k12 math students in actual k12 classrooms, are especially unreliable judges of current trends in k12 math. Here's why:

1. Grownup mathematicians remember arithmetic as boring and excessively rote, and tend therefore to downplay the importance of arithmetic in general, and arithmetic calculations in particular, in most students' mathematical development.

2. Unable to put themselves in the shoes of those students to whom math doesn't come as naturally as it does to them, they tend also to downplay the importance of explicit teaching and rote practice. Some mathematicians take this a step further, imagining that if one simply gave grade schoolers more time to "play around" with numbers, they'd make great mathematical leaps on their own.

3. As more and more college students show worsening conceptual skills in math, mathematicians tend to fault k12 schools for failing to teach concepts and "higher-level thinking," not for failing to teach the more basic skills that underpin these things.

4. In upper-level college and graduate math classes, attended disproportionately by those who are approaching expert-level math skills, student-centered learning is much more effective than it is in grade school classrooms, where students are mathematical novices. Not enough mathematicians read Dan Willingham and appreciate the different needs of novices and experts.

Now there are two specific ways in which mathematicians can provide valuable insights for k12 math instruction:

1. They are perhaps the best source on what students need to know in order to handle freshman math classes.

2. To the extent that they remember what it was like to be a math buff in grade school, and to the extent that they take a detailed look at what's going on right now in k12 math classrooms, they can offer insights into how well suited today's curricula and today's classrooms are to the needs and interests of today's budding mathematicians.

But the fact that mathematicians are really, really good at math does not, in itself, make them reliable sources on what works in k12 math classes. Quite the contrary.