kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/11/12 - 3/18/12

Saturday, March 17, 2012

parents need a union, part 2

I saw a comment from March 2011 (on the occasion of last year's Celebration of Teaching and Learning) remarking on the number of accusations of "teacher bashing" compared to "parent bashing":
Joe Nathan 24. Mar, 2011 at 2:34 pm #
John, when is questioning and challenging legitimate, and when is it “teacher bashing.” I ask because the term “teacher bashing” is used constantly.

What I also see a lot of is criticism of parents for doing a bad job, and students for being apathetic, disinterested, difficult to teach, rowdy and on and on. But I don’t see anyone using the words “parent bashing” or “students bashing.” Why not?

Seems to me that many educators regard any questioning or challenging as “teacher bashing.” The term is used constantly. A quick google search found more than 1.6 million references.
That got me curious.

Status of "teacher bashing" meme today:

Google search for the phrase teacher bashing sans quotation marks: "About 6,330,000 results"
Google search for the phrase parent bashing sans quotation marks: "About 3,790,000 results" (the first couple of pages have nothing to do with schools or foundation executives bashing parents)

Results with quotation marks:
152,000 for "teacher bashing"
22,800 for "parent bashing" (and, again, parent bashing is not something done by school personnel or education foundations)

Parents need a union.

And a meme.

21st century skills: back to the future

email from a friend:
21st Century skills are nothing but the rehashed SCANS skills.

They are workforce skills translated into Outcome Based ed. The Ed Establishment changes the name of OBE to Competency based ed, Standards Based Ed. ect. It's easier to throw parents off the track if they change the name and re-sell it as new. Hard to find the failures on the Internet with a different name.

It all goes back to Marc Tucker's vision and transforming the schools to become Polytechnic schools.

Live and learn.

Here are the SCAN skills, invented in 1992:
SCANS Workplace Competencies: knowing how to allocate time, money, and materials; interpersonal skills such as working on teams, teaching others, and negotiating; using, evaluating, and communicating information; understanding social, organizational, and technological systems; and effectively using technology.
U.S. Department of Labor, Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance, Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, April 1992
The 21st century skills people took out "allocating time, money, and materials" and put in "creativity," but otherwise these are essentially the same thing.

the 4 Cs at the Celebration

Judging by the program content at this year's Celebration of Teaching and Learning, "21st century skills" have won, and knowledge has lost. Although there was ceaseless talk of the "new Common Core," the Common Core standards were in all cases that I witnessed* assumed to be a synonym for 21st century skills. So game over, at least as far as the two unions are concerned.

The only good news (I guess) is that "the Partnership"** has finally decided what the 21st century skills actually are, just 10 years after making them up:
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
The four Cs.

There was universal agreement amongst the participants that the 4 Cs cannot be tested.

* I'm guessing this workshop was different. I'll see if I can get my hands on the Powerpoint.
**tech companies, the NEA, and the Department of Education

at the Celebration

The "Celebration of Teaching and Learning" was such a miserable experience that I refused to return for the second day. Instead, I'm spending my Saturday recovering my equilibrium & trying to find words to describe the scene.

"Aggrieved and angry" come to mind.

The teachers are aggrieved and angry; the union leadership is aggrieved and angry; the poo-bahs and the toadies are aggrieved and angry. The lady from Scholastic was downright offensive (see below) in a you-had-to-be-there kind of way. I will not be making purchases from Scholastic book fairs in the near future.

The worst of the lot was Gene Wilhoit, who is angry at all of America. "Americans don't value education," he said, his face hard. "Americans are complacent."

He went on at length, but iPad ate my notes, and I didn't think to get out my cell phone to film him. I hope someone did because the country needs to see what these people say (and how they say it) when they think parents are out of earshot. "Americans don't understand that education is important to the future," he said.

Yes, indeed. That's why we have 21-year olds graduating college with a lifetime of student loan payments to look forward to. Because we don't value education. (Speaking of college loans, the unions want taxpayers to fund college tuition for teachers and are clearly mobilizing opinion among the rank and file. So that's on the horizon.)

Wilhoit and the others had just come from a two-day meeting with leaders from countries that have good schools, and their experience at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession seemed to be the source of their anger. Each panelist offered up his take-away (e.g. free college for teachers), and all of them speechified about "systems" and "support for teachers" and "respect" and the like.* None of it made much sense. They all agreed that although our schools are terrible, our teachers are great, or as great as they can be, considering.

It was Wilhoit who came closest to voicing the thought they were all managing to convey without speaking the words: We would have better schools if we had a better country.

Some celebration.

*Obligingly, Arne Duncan's person told the gathering that the White House is launching a new initiative with the acronym RESPECT. She looked miserable, sitting there amongst the RttT haters.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Celebration of Teaching and Learning


lgm saw this poem on a poster in a library:

The more you read,
the more you know.
The more you know,
the smarter you grow.
The smarter you grow,
the stronger your voice,
when speaking your mind
or making your choice.

Selecting Colleges

Can I get advice on selecting/evaluating colleges to look at in more detail? I know that KTMers have recommended some web sites, but I didn't make a list. I'm still trying to figure out what criteria are important, including big school/small school, country/city, and whether the college is the town or whether the town has it's own life. I have a lot of preconceived ideas about different schools, so I was surprised when I started looking at the average SAT scores for different colleges, not that that is the main criterion one should use. Does anyone like some rankings better than others? How about the rankings of particular departments? How about intangibles such as opportunities that aren't necessarily related to the college? Are some colleges known for having their students go home on weekends? How did your views change as you got to know schools in more detail? How did your kids' views evolve? Were there conflicts between where your kids wanted to go and what might might be best for them academically? I suppose there is the pressure of picking the highest ranking school because that will sound best to others when they ask.

I thought it would be good to put together a list of tangible and intangible factors to go over with my son. When we go to a school to visit, I want him to have a lot of background knowledge first. I don't want him to accept or reject a school based only on what he sees while getting out of the car on the first visit. I went to the University of Michigan having never been to Ann Arbor before.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

help desk

Do any of you have a rcommendation for a boarding school for students with psychiatric issues?

knowledge is good

I was swapping emails with SAT Verbal on the subject of Chappaqua's new TARP program this morning when it hit me: there's a reason why "Knowledge is power" is a saying, and "Thinking is power" is not.

SAT Verbal agreed and pointed out that "Discussion is power" isn't a saying, either.


When you think about it, there are lots of things, in the edu-world, that have not become sayings and never will become sayings: things that are pretty much the exact opposite of a saying, as a matter of fact, if you take 'saying' to mean a brief and memorable observation that is actually true.


Accountable talk is power.
Lifelong learning is power.
Collaboration across networks and leading by influence is power.
Global awareness is power.
Promoting Powerful Professional Awareness to Support Student Success is power.

None of these things is a saying now, and none of them will become a saying in the future.

SATVerbalTutor on the SAT and phonics

One of the things I've begun to notice recently is that I can generally distinguish between kids who were taught to read using a whole language approach and those taught to read using phonics. Almost invariably, the kids who were taught using whole language have considerably more difficult breaking words apart and examining their component parts. I tend to see this much more prominently when I tutor French or Italian -- often a student will read the first couple of letters in a word and then simply guess what the rest of it says, which is an absolute disaster in French -- but I see it when I tutor the SAT as well, albeit in a more roundabout way.

For example, one Blue Book sentence completion contains the the answer choice "deferential," which is a word that most of my students are unfamiliar with. What's interesting, though, is how they react to it. Usually I ask them if they can relate it to a word they know, and typically they can't think of anything, but recently one of my students said that it looked like "different." That one threw me a little. On one hand, my student was absolutely right: "defer" and "differ" do sound similar. Unfortunately, they have nothing to do with one another. And that, in turn, made me wonder about the whole idea of asking students to relate unfamiliar words to words they already know. The underlying assumption of that strategy is that students already know what parts of words they should and should not focus on, that they can distinguish between "sounds similar" and "related in meaning." And that assumption, as I've discovered, is not necessarily a valid one.
The SAT and Phonics

how to write an English paper

Cruising Purdue University's OWL site for advice on how to write an English paper, I find the following "Timeline":
  • Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)
  • Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)
  • Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
  • Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)
  • New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
  • Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
  • Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

claptrap in Chappaqua

During these same years, elementary staff had been working with Columbia University Teachers College to implement reading and writing workshop, while middle school mathematics teachers were working with Lucy West, national mathematics consultant, on implementing accountable talk as they moved toward introducing students to rich, authentic problems along with their standard math curriculum.
Striving for Improvement Through a Strategic Question: Our Story
I think this is the most pretentious public school document I've seen to date.


It gets better.
Our parent community began learning about our focus through presentations at Board meetings, including topics like action research presentations, and through parent workshops designed to keep parents informed about the new math program, Investigations, and our new elementary report card.
Chappaqua teachers, who currently earn an average of $110K (around $130K when you add pensions), are doing beaucoup action research in a new initiative they call "Teacher Action Research Program" or  TARP.

Seriously. They created a taxpayer-funded boondoggle, and they named it TARP.

vision and vision therapy

Rickie by Frederic Flach

Seeing Through New Eyes: Changing the Lives of Children with Autism, Asperger Syndrome and other Developmental Disabilities through Vision Therapy by Melvin Kaplan

Dr. Kaplan was Rickie's vision therapist.

a difficult passage - & terrific advice

[Terri] LeClercq offers a very helpful technique to check for coherence in a multi-paragraph text: As you edit your rough draft, separate each topic sentence from your text and examine each one to make sure it is a strong introduction to the main idea of that paragraph. Then examine the coherence of the topic sentences as they relate to the overall thesis set-up by seeing whether the topic sentences form a coherent paragraph.
“Writing Good Paragraphs with Topic Sentences.” Legal Writing Tips 1.8 (2005). Print. Web. 14 March 2012.
My students had trouble with this passage today. They understood the first and second sentences (the 2 independent clauses linked by the colon), but they stumbled over the last one.

I'm not crazy about the last sentence myself: reading it, you have to keep too much information lit up in working memory until you finally get to the most important bit, which is at the very end. The end is where the most important bit usually should be, but still. There's an awful lot to hang on to until you get there.

I don't mean to sound harsh. That last sentence is perfectly serviceable, and impressive in its way. It's nicely linked to its partner sentence, the one that comes just before it, and it manages to pack a great deal of information into a small space, which is not easy. You'd have to be an experienced writer to write it.

Nevertheless, if it were my sentence, I would keep on writing it before I stopped. I would revise.

Teaching basic composition, I've come to realize how important it is for college students to be able to read prose I wouldn't advise any of them actually to write. A fair portion of academic and professional prose is not very good, and some of it is god-awful. But students have to read it.

Of course everyone knows this, but I hadn't thought about the implications until now. College students have to be able to read bad writing. Not just difficult writing, not just sophisticated writing, not just writing with a lot of big words. College students have to be able to read all those things, but they also have to be able to read difficult, sophisticated writing with a lot of big words that is bad.

So how do they acquire this skill?

Composition textbooks come stocked with dozens of heavily copy-edited essays written by journalists and originally published in popular books and magazines: these are works that have been professionally engineered to be maximally swift, cohesive, and clear. They make sense as models for writing, but they're useless for reading. They're so well written they practically read themselves.*

Where are the composition texts featuring 100s of pages of dense and mystifying academic prose, I ask?

And how does one teach students to read badly-written prose?

Is it different from teaching students to read well-written prose?

I'm thinking it might be.

Last but not least, speaking of bad and good prose, I think LeClercq's advice is brilliant. It's an amazing fit for William Kerrigan's X-1-2-3s.


* I don't remotely believe that well-written prose practically reads itself. Certain genres, however, are written to be effortlessly readable, and that's the writing that appears in college composition texts.

the distressed student and the helpful friend

I'm not a politically correct sort of person (I'm fairly antagonistic to political correctness, actually), but the casting for this USF video for the university's writing center struck me as being (unintentionally) hilarious and slightly mortifying all at once.

It's a cute film, but I was laughing and semi-cringing throughout: Oh, look! The distressed student has found another helpful white person!

I am reminded of the time I cruised every single textbook for every single education course at NYU one afternoon in the basement of the NYU bookstore. There were zillions of books about heroic white teachers bringing enlightenment to downtrodden black children.

As a general principle, I am against education as civilizing mission.

This is why I've never been a fan of character education for any child of any color.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Art of Problem Solving: Beast Academy

I've been waiting for this for some time, and am happy to report as of today or so, portions of Art of Problem Solving's new Elementary curriculum ("Beast Academy") are now available. I ordered it. It's shipping Media Mail, so it'll be awhile before it gets here but I'll report back after it arrives and we take it for a test drive.

So far, they've released 3A and 3B, obviously part of their third grade curriculum, though they're working on grades 2-5. We're currently nearing the end of Singapore 2A (and halfway through Math U See Beta), and though the 3B materials look a bit beyond my oldest yet, 3A is within close striking distance, based on the assessment test.

The samples look fun and my daughter was stoked when she perused the available pdf's.

Monday, March 12, 2012

advice for adults with reading problems

resources in the comments thread

And here are The Phonics Page and Don Potter.


I'd read chemprof's and EM's descriptions of very bright students with serious reading problems, and I'd been appropriately horrified. But until this morning I'm not sure I really, truly grasped what they were talking about. Which is: very bright, very talented students who have major problems reading and who haven't been diagnosed with dyslexia.

This morning, one of the smartest students I've ever had reluctantly showed me the thesis statement he'd just written. He didn't want me to look at it because the spelling was bad, and I won't post it without permission. I'll just say that he had misspellings on the order of 'charitturs" for characters; "sirve" for serve; and "morle" for moral. Of 19 words, 9 are misspelled, and the words spelled correctly include only one noun.

His spelling is so bad, he said, that spellcheck doesn't work. At some point his laptop decided he might be writing in Spanish, so half the time spellcheck serves up a menu of Spanish options. When Microsoft Word does present him with a selection of words in English, my student often has no idea which one to pick.

I had him read out loud a difficult paragraph, written by Maria Tatar, on fairy tales. He could more or less do it (he's very sharp), but he kept missing the short words: prepositions and short verbs, too, I think. He kept missing the short words because he automatically filled in whatever word he thought would come next instead of reading the word that actually did come next. (I guess somebody taught him to 'make predictions.')

Here's an example of what I mean (I don't remember whether he misread this section):
Like many fairy tales, the Grimms’ narrative begins by framing a prohibition
He would likely trip over 'by,' reading it as 'with' instead (or whatever word seemed most likely to appear). Although he can spell all the prepositions -- prepositions are the main words he can spell -- he often misreads them.

Another problem: he doesn't read left-to-right. Instead, he jumps around in a sentence looking for words he can base his reading of the sentence in: he's looking for a kind of anchor word, I think. Once he's found an anchor word, he goes back to the beginning of the sentence and starts over. Then, if he has no luck on the second go-round, he'll jump forward again and look for a second anchor word that might help.

He couldn't read the word "prohibition" at all, but he demonstrated for me the method he would use to tackle it. He would start with the syllable "pro," which he could read; then he would hit "hibition," which he couldn't read at all. Then he would skip to "tion" at the end (which he saw as a separate syllable - that's good). Then he would try to guess "prohibition" on the basis of "pro" and "tion."

And he would fail, in spite of the fact that he does indeed know the word 'prohibition' and recognized it the moment I said it.

He's in his mid-20s, he's extremely intelligent, and he cannot read "prohibition" using phonics and syllables.

I know very little about dyslexia, so I don't know whether that's an issue. I do know a little about phonics, and it seems clear that he doesn't read phonetically. At least, not fluently. I'm sure he was taught to read using whole language or balanced literacy. As a child he memorized all the words he was taught and then, via high IQ, high energy, and a scrappy personality, figured out how to reverse-engineer paragraphs in order to wrest some meaning from them.

Interestingly, his problems have led him to a theory of paragraph development I've been mulling over myself: he believes paragraphs typically have a concluding sentence that sums everything up. He reads that sentence first, then goes back to the beginning of the paragraph to try and decipher the whole thing.

I've been wondering whether paragraphs have conclusions and have been operating under the theory that most of them do not. Now I wonder.

He can't really write at all (he says -- he's so verbal, I find that hard to believe). But he has somehow figured out how to think in whole paragraphs -- maybe even in whole 5-paragraph essays or perhaps beyond. Today he actually came up with a sophisticated thesis sentence AND three coherent supporting topic sentences almost entirely in his head. He says he got through high school on oral presentations, and by oral presentation he doesn't mean Powerpoint. He means thesis, topic sentence, elaboration, and specific support. He produces more content talking than I have the working memory to deal with: he's got to figure out how to write if only so other people will be able to follow what he's saying.

This is a guy trading in complex ideas entirely inside the oral register. You can't do that! (Well, you can, but most of us can't 'hear' it ---- )

He told me a few weeks back that when he was a kid his school introduced a new reading program that was so terrible, and left him with such profound spelling deficits, that his parents had wanted to sue the school. No surprise there.

Of course, as we know, a parent can't sue a school for failing to teach their very bright child to spell. Educational malpractice doesn't exist.

Question. What is the way forward here? (If he wants a way forward, that is. He's not a kid, and he's figured out work-arounds that are serving him reasonably well.)

It strikes me that he needs to look into voice recognition software ---- although to use voice recognition software for writing anything more serious than a short email you have to be able to read what you've dictated. So I'm sure about that.....

He says he's often thought he needs to take ESL classes in English.

That doesn't strike me as a bad idea -- I've begun to rely upon lessons in English as a second language myself -- but I think what he really needs is phonics. Phonics and a lot of practice reading left-to-right. His jump-around habits are ingrained; he'd need to practice until he developed a new ingrained left-to-right habit.

Is there a phonics program anyone out there would recommend for this student?

Other thoughts or suggestions?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

3 to 35

Three percent of New York property tax collections were used to pay pension costs in 2001; by 2015, pension costs are expected to eat up 35 percent of property tax collections.
Deficits Push N.Y. Cities and Counties to Desperation
Published: March 10, 2012
I wonder if there are betting pools (yet) on how this is going to play out.