kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/8/12 - 1/15/12

Saturday, January 14, 2012

why Americans need precision teaching: we're hyper

One consequence of the recent expansion of human genetic variability is that a number of culturally relevant SNPs are also local and cross-culturally variable in frequencies. For example, long (e.g., 7-repeat) allelic versions of dopamine receptor gene 4 (DRD4) have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and novelty seeking. Importantly, these versions of the gene are quite common among Caucasian Americans, but they are virtually absent among Asians. Chen et al. (1999) hypothesize that long allelic versions of DRD4 provide a selective advantage in new, challenging environments because they are increasingly predominant as a function of the distance by which different ethnic groups immigrated in historic and evolutionary times (for alternative possibilities, see Cochran & Harpending 2009). Findings such as these strongly suggest that to fully understand the origins of cultural differences in psychological processes, genetic processes must be taken into account.
Shinobu Kitayama1 and Ayse K. Uskul. Culture, Mind, and the Brain: Current Evidence and Future Directions. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2011. 62:419–49.Chen C, Burton M, Greenberger E, Dmitrieva J. 1999. Population migration and the variation of dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) allele frequencies around the globe. Evol. Hum. Behav. 20:309–24.
Years ago, John Ratey and I argued in Shadow Syndromes that Americans had a higher genetic propensity to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and we were right.

Americans need precision teaching because it's fast, and it's efficient:
Morningside Academy offers a money-back guarantee for progressing 2 years in 1 in the skill of greatest deficit. In twenty-five years, Morningside Academy has returned less than one percent of school-year tuition.

news you can use

27 States Sign on for Digital Learning Day

Celebrations will vary by state.


We point out simply that not only do U.S. students on average perform better internationally than reported in a myriad of policy papers, but as Boe and Shin demonstrate, the majority of U.S. students (white students) actually rank near the very top on international tests.
Into the Eye of the Storm
October 2007
B. Lindsay Lowell Georgetown University
Hal Salzman The Urban Institute

That's why my high-IQ, culturally-advantaged, non-hyperactive, W-H-I-T-E, rising-5th grade son placed into the second-semester 3rd grade textbook in Singapore Math back when he was age 9. (placement test here).

In the real world, a gap that big by age 9 does not get smaller.

It gets bigger.

non-poor students doing fine in Princeton

what is the Chinese language?

interesting post at The Economist

momof4 boils it down

on another thread, momof4 writes:
As far as I can tell, the best-performing countries don't expect their kids to discover multiplication, reading or anything else on their own; teachers explicitly teach the material.
Until this moment, I had never thought of it quite this starkly -- but now that I am thinking of it quite this starkly, my sense is that momof4 is probably right.

From time to time high-performing countries seem to decide they need to be more creative, which seems to mean sending teams of teachers to the U.S. to observe our cr**** math curricula,* but these initiatives never seem to last.

*I'm not going to take the time now to track down the links.

More Fourth Grade Slump

Speaking of Memoria Press, my catalog came in a mail a couple of days ago and there was an article in there on the "top ten" reasons you should teach your child Latin. (Preaching to the choir in our case -- the only question here is what grade are we going to start Latin.)

But I read the article, and one part popped out at me:

Latin is the next step after phonics.

We all understand the importance of phonics, the systematic study of the English letters and their sounds. But phonics only covers half of our language, the English half, those good old concrete words that students learn to speak and read first. But then we stop, even though there is another half of English that has a whole new set of root words, spelling, and pronunciation patterns.

English, you see, is a hybrid language, a marriage of two languages—English and Latin. The name English comes from the Angles who, along with the Saxons and other barbarians, invaded Britain after the fall of Rome in the 5th century. English is a Germanic language and, the Germans being barbarians, had mostly concrete, common, everyday words, the words children learn to speak and read first in primary school.

But, beginning in 3rd grade, students start to encounter the Latin half of English. Latin words are bigger, harder, have more syllables, more abstract meanings, and different pronunciation and spelling patterns. How do we teach the Latin half of English in a systematic orderly way like we do phonics? We don’t. But we should. And the only truly systematic way to continue the study of the English language after phonics is to teach Latin—the foundation of the Latin half of English.

the return of Exo!

Synchronicity is real.

Heck, maybe ESP is real.

I can't tell you how many times, now, I've thought "WHERE is so-and-so," so-and-so being a ktm Commenter who hasn't commented in a long time. The next thing I know, I read the site and there s/he is!

Just this week, I was thinking, "I miss Exo."

And presto chango, here is Exo!

must-see TV: Common Core edition

woo hoo!

old wine, new bottle

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Crazy U - Andrew Ferguson on why he wrote the book

An editor/friend of mine planted the seed for the book when he asked me to write a magazine article about Katharine Cohen, an extremely successful and extremely expensive private college counselor in Manhattan. I spent a fair amount of time with her and discovered her to be an appealing subject. What really opened my eyes, though, was an information seminar she held one winter evening in suburban Connecticut. Like most parents with kids about to apply to college, I’d heard how the process had descended into Absurdistan. But it wasn’t until I saw the feral squint of parental ambition in the faces of these well-to-do moms and dads that I realized how weirdly competitive and confused the whole thing had become. These people were out for blood -- they were going to do whatever it took, including hire a private counselor for $40,000, to get their little Ashleys and Caitlins into Brown. My own son was a junior in high school at the time, just starting to daydream about college, and I remember thinking, “Yow, this is what we’re up against?”
'Crazy U' by Sam Patulla
Inside Higher Ed

the "China Study" abstract and the soldiers

From time to time, I mention T. Colin Campbell's The China Study: a terrific book. A few minutes ago, I found what I think is probably the main abstract from the published study, so I'm posting the link:

Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of coronary artery disease: the Cornell China study.
Am J Cardiol. 1998 Nov 26;82(10B):18T-21T.

I went looking for Campbell & Esselstyn after reading Megan McArdle's post arguing that the biggest risk factor for heart disease is age. I'm pretty sure that's not true (as I recall, the biggest risk factor is diet), so I went looking for the incidence of heart disease amongst the Chinese peasants Campbell studied.

While I was at it, I remembered this passage from Esselstyn's book:
Autopsies of soldiers during the Korean and Vietnam Wars showed the effects of America's artery-clogging diet even on the very young. The arteries of Asian soldiers were largely clean, free of fatty deposits. But almost 80 percent of American battlefield casualties showed gross evidence of coronary artery disease--clogging and damage that, had the soldiers lived, would have grown worse with every passing decade. 
I think this passage, more than anything else I've read, was the shocker for me.

Glen on the flood

In a comment on another thread, Glen writes:
SteveH asked: But how about the MITx degree? What's the catch?

The catch is that nobody at MIT (that I know of) is talking about an MITx "degree". These and the new Stanford online classes only give you credit toward a degree if you are an admitted MIT or Stanford student.

Otherwise, the idea is to give you some sort of acknowledgement that is carefully designed to make it clear that it is NOT MIT or Stanford credit. Both institutions are desperate to avoid diluting their own brand equity.

However, these projects often take on lives of their own. Some Stanford students are now complaining that they have to pay $5000 to take the same online class that non-students take for free. No difference at all in the educational experience, assignments, tests, feedback from TAs, etc., but the Stanford student pays a fortune and gets Stanford credentials; the equally-taught non-student gets it for free and gets no Stanford credential. That's an unstable situation, I believe, that may end up like breaching a barrier between two oceans at different levels. I'm looking for a flood to pour through this opening, which might overwhelm the people who are trying to keep these projects under control.

I see them right now as desperate to defend their monopolies but well aware that huge pressures are mounting to change the system. I think they figure, rightly, that if they don't disrupt themselves, someone else will do it to them. They probably don't want to be the venerable Kodaks and Fuji Films of higher ed as the world goes digital.
The final section of Walter Russell Mead's The Ice Cream Party and the Spinach Party is directly relevant.

Crazy U

Heard from Susan S yesterday, who wanted to know if I'd read Crazy U by Andrew Ferguson.

Answer: yes, and I've been meaning to post excerpts forever. The book is fantastic. If you're sending a child to college any time soon, you must read it (along with Barry Seaman's Binge and Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, neither of which I have had the nerve to crack as yet...)

Susan says I have to get to Crazy U now, so here goes:
The cost of college is the consuming preoccupation for parents, of course, and a major source of the craziness. It's not hard to see why. I graduated from a small liberal arts college in 1978. My annual tuition bill was $5,100. If my school's tuition had tracked inflation, the bill today would be $16,500. Instead it's nearly $40,000--an exponential rise repeated at nearly every school in the country.

But unlike other questions related to college admissions--how do I make my kid write the essay, do we really have to do a tour, who designs these stupid applications, when will it all be over?--how to pay for school is a peculiarly sensitive matter. With the Kitchen People I could start a good thirty- or forty-minute chain rant y asking about the college counselors at their kids' high schools. But when I'd ask about college costs I'd provoke a quick Vesuvius-like first, followed by a slow glide into silence, a lot of foot-shuffling and ceiling glancing, until people drained their cups and wandered off for a refill. Nobody likes to talk about money, especially when you're being reminded you don't have enough of it.


But when it came to finance I restricted myself for the most part to College Board and the Department of Education Web sites. I took their directives to be authoritative. (If you can't trust an agency of the federal government, who can you trust?) By the time I was through collecting material about college costs, I had enough documents to make several impressive new stacks in the dining room. There were booklets, worksheets, request forms, disclaimers, power points, suggested guidelines, official guidelines, disclosures, charts, backgrounders, tables, monthly planners, and FAQs beyond number. Usually the sheets showed ranked masses of bullet points with impenetrable headings: "ICR Consent to Disclosure of Tax Information," "Repayment Plan Selection," "DCL GEN-04-04 General Guidance for FRAC Participants," "Fafsa4caster," "Income Based Repayment Selector," and "FFEL Convertible-rate Interest Rates Calculation Sheet." I could concentrate on them for no longer than forty-five seconds at a time. Then I'd look up and hear Patton: "Very difficult, very complicated."

Among those reams of paper many pages were pure salesman-ship--and what the CB and the Education Department were selling was, once again, college itself, the raw idea of it, quite apart from any considerations that might draw a kid to one particular school or another, or heaven forbid toward a future of work and family without higher ed. The message was nmistakable: When it comes to college, you should just go. Don't worry so much about the money. Go. The money--we'll help with the money. Just go. Go, for crying out loud.

One of the first sheets I acquired from the CB, under the section College Costs, set the tone. It offered a little USA Today-like charticle--half chart, half article--headlined "Keep Rising Prices in Perspective."

"Media reports," the sheet said, "can be intimidating. Don't let the sticker prices scare you." Damn lyin' media.

"There's no escaping the fact that college costs are rising," the sheet acknowledged, though I knew that if there were a way of escaping the fact, the College Board would have found it.

"But there is good news," it continued. "There is more than $143 billion in financial aid available." (That number--$143 billion, the pot of gold--was repeated frequently, endlessly, in the documents. The chart that followed showed two columns. On the left was the bad news. On the right was the good news, offered as refutation of the bad, in a box labeled "But did you know that..."

So in the left-hand column we saw that last year tuition rose by 5.9 percent at private schools and 6.4 percent at public schools. "But did you know that..." 56 percent of students enrolled at four-year colleges attend institutions that charge tuition and fees of less than $9,000 per year." Good for them. And the other 44 percent?

On the left, the bad news: "The average surcharge for out-of-state students at public institutions is $10,867."

Then the good: "But did you know that...About two-thirds of all full-time undergraduates students receive grant aid."

On the left: "Students will pay on average from $381 to $408 more than last year on room and board."

"But did you know that...More than $143 billion in financial aid is available to students and their families.

Actually, we did know that, since it had already been printed right there at the top of the page. The rebuttals weren't very effective, if you thought things through. It was small comfort to know that this problem of rising costs was solvable, but only so long as the family agreed to go deeper in debt or accept repeated handouts. Maybe it's good news that $143 billion was available for aid. But isn't it bad news we need the $143 billion in the first place?

"Consider college an investment," the information sheet concluded, its manner calm and reassuring. Then this College Board charticle quoted a study from the College Board that said people who earned a degree from a college, schools such as those that make up the College Board, earn 60 percent more than workers with only a high school degree--adding up to $800,000 over a lifetime.

"Whatever sacrifices you and your child make for his or her college education in the short term are more than repaid in the long term."

I'd noticed something interesting about these communications from the higher-ed establishment. The only time they spoke of higher education in business terms, weighing costs and benefits, was in the middle of a come-on to parents and students, most of whom were presumably comfortable with seeing life in terms of commercial transactions. Otherwise the literature treated higher ed as a spiritual realm, filled with mystery and magic, immune from the worldly pressures of costs and benefits."

The cultlike disingenuousness of it was galling. Much of the stuff I'd accumulated from the College Board was thinly disguised propaganda of this kind--prettied up in numbers, but just as self-serving as anything you'd expect from a business lobby.

"Don't let the sticker price scare you," the next sheet said, ramming the message home. "Financial aid often makes up the difference between what you can afford to pay and what college costs." And just so you don't forget: "Education loans are also an appropriate way for families to pay for college."
more t/k

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

more more middle class....

re: re: We all want to be 'middle class' and Speaking of the middle class

As part of not getting my stride back today, and inspired by my success at finally locating an income chart that includes medical benefits, I tracked down inflation charts on:

public education spending (and here)
college spending
health care spending


Good thing apparel prices have been falling or we'd all be walking around naked. Walking around naked or, alternatively, walking around fully clothed with a whopper of a student apparel loan to pay off.

And while we're on the topic of mind-boggling and rising prices for the big stuff, as opposed to reasonable and falling prices for the little stuff, why do I have to keep hearing about housing bubbles when the really huge bubbles seem to be tuition and health care?

speaking of the middle class

re: Grace's post "We all want to be middle class" (and other posts on this subject)

I finally found an income chart that includes medical benefits:

Concerned About Income Stagnation? Blame Rising Health Insurance Costs 
(I haven't fact-checked the chart.)

Every time I see articles about stagnating wages, I want to know whether benefits are or are not part of wages. Assuming benefits are not included in most estimates of wages, and assuming this chart is accurate, what we see is health insurance eating up what would have been a nice, steady series of raises.

Good thing we can all buy cheap electronics from China--!

palisadesk on joined manuscript vs cursive

The research actually shows that "joined manuscript" is both faster and more legible than cursive, especially at maximum speed. It doesn't degenerate into a scrawl or scribble the way the "loopy" styles do.

Kate Gladstone is the handwriting go-to guru, her website Handwriting Repair has a ton of resources on the topic. She recommends a number of the italic and quasi-italic styles, which have always been dominant in the UK and Australia.

It's untrue that traditional cursive will eliminate, or prevent, b-d reversals and other such anomalies. I've had a number of students who consistently made b-d errors in cursive -- "The bog is darking," and so on -- even though the letters did not look anything alike. Kids with graphomotor output issues have a terrible time learning traditional cursive writing, and their writing always looks like chicken tracks despite their best efforts. Italic and manuscript-style joined cursive, a la "Handwriting WIthout Tears" yield better results.

still off-topic: Gallup poll on weight loss

I've become a tad health-and-diet-preoccupied here in the New Year. But I figure I am not alone.

Just came across a Gallup poll -- How Americans Who Have Lost Weight Made it Happen -- and thought this was interesting:
Gallup’s annual Health and Healthcare survey results reveal the top weight loss tactics Americans say they have used successfully. The 52% of all U.S. adults who say they have succeeded at losing weight at some point in their lives were more likely to credit dietary changes than exercise.

The top three diet-related tactics Americans said they used were eating less, counting calories/portion control, and eating more natural foods. In terms of those who relied on exercise, just working out in general was the most frequently mentioned form of activity.

Monday, January 9, 2012

they do what they do

A teacher friend told me her district is not going to teach cursive handwriting any more. The children entering Kindergarten next year won't be able to write cursive script, and they won't be able to read cursive script. Their parents' love letters will be as indecipherable to them as 1960s shorthand is to me.

My friend thinks dropping cursive is a bad idea, but no one asked her. No one asked the parents, either, or the taxpayers. District administrators made the call, and that is that. They are the deciders.*

Meanwhile some children will undoubtedly suffer in ways the deciders have failed to consider:
Cursive longhand helps some people in a way few would think about. I am dyslectic to the point that I had to depend on others to read to me for many years. Over 50 years ago I received an engineering degree, and went on to a successful career supervising the design and construction of several big-ticket projects.
With my dyslexia pattern I would never print "dog" as "god" but I could, even today, print "dog" as "bog" and not know the difference, even if someone pointed it out to me. I do not make these mistakes when writing in longhand. I hope the schools continue to teach this method of writing to the dyslectic students.
Ridgefield, Wash.
July 16, 2011
I don't use the word "decider" as a slam against President Bush. Deciders is an excellent word.


First we had a great Christmas, then we had a great trip to IL to see my brother and his family.

Now: re-entry.



I hate re-entry!