kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/24/12 - 7/1/12

Saturday, June 30, 2012


from Glen:
I don't know whether the Texas GOP is objecting to the program of political indoctrination or the deprecation of knowledge, both of which are labeled "critical thinking" by progressives to give themselves political cover, but either way, I'm with the GOP on this one.

On arrival, our school district's new "science specialist" sent a letter home to parents in which she claimed to be specially trained in "progressive education" and "constructivist learning," whose goal for our science classes was, "to instill in students a commitment to defending the environment."

The notion of "critical thinking" was central to her mission, and I happened to see one of her classroom critical thinking tests. It asked, "How many of the following human activities cause global warming? (check all that apply)". Not "are claimed by some to cause" but "cause." Critical thinking apparently consists in regurgitating the approved answers, not pondering the questions, when the answers are provided by a sage who's progressive. The options were such things as "driving cars", "consuming non-local foods", "non-sustainable manufacturing", etc. The right answer from a "critical thinking" perspective was, of course, all of the above.

I wondered at what point knowledge of physics, chemistry, or biology might play a role in the class. Mere knowledge was "fine," but engaging in environmental activism was worth extra credit toward your grade. What about chemistry experiments at home or go see the meteor collection at a museum? Good activities but not relevant to your science grade. What IS applicable to your science grade? Get involved in environmental activism, find examples of non-green behaviors among your neighbors and complain, or participate in an Earth Day activity.

At the end of the year, the top science prize awarded by her was not to the kid who knew the most about physics or chemistry but to the "Most Green" student. The prize was a coffee mug. Just what a 10-yr-old girl needs most, a coffee mug, right? Well, not just any coffee mug. The "science specialist" and expert on "critical thinking" told us from the podium that this mug displayed a very important map of the world that showed "which parts of the world will be under water in 2050." Wow. We already have the map showing where in Appalachia to buy your future beachfront property. It's right there in the shaking hands of the little green girl with the latte. I wonder how many critical thinkers are buying.


And my brother-in-law, a Life Flight helicopter paramedic for years, wanted to get a nursing degree so he could spend more time at home raising his kids. California required nursing students to pass a "critical thinking" class to get their degree. Sounds like a good idea. And who best to teach our nurses to think critically? Dr. House-style clinical pathologists? Physicists? Experts in statistical analysis? No, when mistakes may cost lives, we turn to--the English Department.

So, he took the class from one of the staff marxists and made the mistake of challenging some of her claims. He thought the point of critical thinking was to engage in back-and-forth discussions, reasoning about an issue from various perspectives. BIG mistake.

The critical thinking instructor graded assignments on "insight," which is to say, how much evidence for leftist dogma the student managed to "discover" during an assignment. I begged my brother-in-law to stop analyzing and pretend to experience leftist religious conversion. For the final assignment, which was, inevitably, "to analyze from a marxist-feminist perspective," he did as I suggested, and got an A in the class.

But not just an A, but a gushing letter from the instructor about how utterly inspiring it was to see the light of understanding finally dawning in his formerly benighted middle-aged, white, male brain. In the end, her urging him to "think more critically" had enabled him to see the "class contradictions" and "injustice inherent in" blah, blah, and he had given her hope for the future.

So this is what state-enforced "critical thinking" means in California: deprecation of factual knowledge and promotion of various progressive theories.

The NY Times is counting on a lack of actual critical thinking skills by its fan base. They label a collection of bad ideas "critical thinking," then label anyone who opposes those ideas opponents of critical thinking. Ha, ha, those Texan rubes. What's the point in even arguing with people like that? (So now, in Orwellian fashion, we don't have to.)

I'm quite sure I would part company with the Texas GOP over other issues, but on this one, they're right. Real critical thinkers should be saying no to phony critical thinking.

letter to Andrew Rosenthal

re: Texas Republicans and "Knowledge-Based Education," I've sent this email to an address that I hope belongs to Andrew Rosenthal:
Hi -

I am a writer (Animals in Translation; Animals Make Us Human) and an instructor of freshman composition.

My class blog is here.

My husband, Ed Berenson, is Director of the Institute of French Studies at NYU (his new book is The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story).

Both of us strongly support “knowledge-based education,” and we are likely in the majority of parents, including liberal parents living in New York.

Although it’s not obvious from the platform’s wording, knowledge – not critical thinking per se – is the issue the Texas Republican Party has taken a position on. The phrase “critical thinking” means something quite different inside public education than out, and I’m hoping you’ll consider writing a follow-up to clarify.

Boiling it down, there are two fundamental issues in the ‘education wars,’ one involving values, the other involving empirical research on the brain.

In terms of values, a majority of parents (and taxpayers and liberal arts professors) want schools to transmit to students knowledge of the liberal arts disciplines.

The K-12 establishment disagrees. Education professors [tend to] believe knowledge is changing so quickly that material taught today will be obsolete tomorrow, so content doesn’t matter. Instead of teaching knowledge, schools should teach students to ‘think critically’ and to ‘learn how to learn.’

(If you're interested, I compare my own district's ‘content doesn’t matter’ 7th grade reading program to the Core Knowledge reading sequence here. My district spends $29K per pupil.)

In terms of research on the brain, the K-12 establishment believes that ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ are separate functions. In the age of the internet, they argue, there is no reason for students to 'memorize' and 'regurgitate' knowledge because you can find any information you need on Google.

That sounds logical, but cognitive science has shown that it’s wrong. In reality, it's not possible to think about content stored on Google. While you are thinking, content must be stored inside 'working memory,' and working memory for “external,” unlearned content is tiny -- while working memory for knowledge stored in long-term memory is much larger.

In short, “knowledge” stored in the brain is biologically different from “knowledge” stored outside the brain, and the difference matters to the quality of thought. Thinking depends on knowing.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham’s article for teachers is worth reading:
Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?

In closing, I’ll mention that Ed headed the California History/Social Science Project in the ‘90s. CHSSP was a state-wide effort by the superintendent of schools to remove professional development from education schools and put it in the hands of disciplinary specialists – in other words, to make professional development “knowledge-based.”

I’m sure Ed would be happy to talk to you if you’re interested.
Hoping you’ll look into this further and consider writing a follow-up –

Catherine Johnson
Of course, I've omitted the question of direct instruction in values...

update: group learning, IQ, and performance

I added a chart to the post on group learning:

The blue bar represents the low performers, the red bar high performers. All have the same measured IQ (126), and at the beginning of the study all are performing well below the level their IQ would predict. The higher performers then recover, and their performance increases to a "126" level. The the low performers do not recover, and their performance remains suppressed.

instructivist weighs in

re: Texas Republican Party's purported opposition to 'critical thinking'
The indignation exhibited in the [NYT] comments is misplaced. In the bizarre Thoughtworld of educationists nothing is what it appears to be. Being indignant about a ban on "critical thinking" is like being indignant about a ban on "democracy" in The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).

In the Thoughtworld of educationists there is endless prattle about "critical thinking" but this "critical thinking" is taking place in a vacuum. Educationists are notoriously hostile to knowledge. They want "critical thinking" to take place without anything to think about. These so-called higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) are the pretentious upper parts of Bloom's Taxonomy with the lower parts typically cut off.

comments needed

No Comment Necessary: Texas GOP’s 2012 Platform Opposes Teaching “Critical Thinking Skills”

I say it's time for somebody out there to think critically about thinking critically.

Critical Thinking Not Possible Without Content Knowledge

Friday, June 29, 2012

group work, IQ, and underperformance

re: group work lowers IQ

I've skimmed the article (free online).

Assuming the findings are confirmed in other studies (I suspect they will be), this is bad news.

  • Subjects had the same IQ: 126.
  • They were put in small groups of 5 and introduced to each other.
  • They took an IQ test with no feedback as to how they did.
  • Then they took a second computer-administered IQ test.
  • After each question, they were told whether they got the answer right or wrong.
  • At the same time, they were also given their rank inside the group (rank determined by each person's # of correct answers).
  • They were also given their rank vis a vis 1 particular member of the group, chosen "pseudorandomly."
  • 2 people had brain scans during the test-with-feedback condition.
  • Everyone did worse in the beginning. Across the board. Everyone. Everyone did worse than his/her measured ability.
  • As the test went on, some people recovered. Their performance went back up to the level predicted by their IQ scores. 
  • The others never improved. They started low, and they stayed low. 
  • Females were more likely to start low and stay low than males. 
  • For high performers, brain scans showed activity in the amygdala (likely fear), decreasing over time. (That is, they were likely feeling less fear, perhaps growing more confident.)
  • For high performers, activity in the lateral PFC increases over time. Activity in lateral PFC is associated with IQ tasks, with working memory tasks, and with increased task difficulty. 
So. All told, membership in a small group produced a net decrease in number of correct answers compared to what you would predict for the same 5 people working alone.

Everyone's performance dropped at the outset.

Some people recovered, others didn't.

The people who recovered simply went back up to where they had been going in, before experimenters assigned them to a small group.

  • How small is small? Would group of 20 students in whole class instruction show the same pattern? 25 students? 30? 
  • If so ... yikes.
  • In the wake of this study, mixed-ability groups strike me as an even worse idea than I've thought in the past. Lower ability children in a mixed-ability group are going to be getting constant negative feedback about their status vis a vis the higher ability children. On the other hand, the study did not include a condition that manipulated feedback in this manner. That would be interesting.
  • Assuming this study picked up on a personality difference (which we don't know, of course), what would happen if you grouped the 'nervous' kids together, putting the 'confident' kids in their own group? Would two groups still separate out in this way?
  • Would same-sex groups change the results?
  • What does this tell us about grades and grading? 

The blue bar represents the low performers, the red bar high performers. All have the same measured IQ (126), and at the beginning of the study all are performing well below the level their IQ would predict. The higher performers then recover, and their performance increases to a "126" level. The the low performers do not recover, and their performance remains suppressed.

Implicit signals in small group settings and their impact on the expression of cognitive capacity and associated brain responses

group learning: the sine qua non

I was just telling Ed about the study on group projects & IQ, and he said that already, in the 1990s, when he headed the California History Social Science Project (under the umbrella of the California Subject Matter Project), group learning was drilled into him as the absolute best way to teach.

Ed also tells me that Phil Daro (B.A. in English), was head of the original math project, and Bill Honig got rid of him: kicked him upstairs & hired a real math professor from San Diego State to take charge. Ed doesn't remember his name now.

The point of the Subject Matter Project was to take professional development away from ed schools and consultants and put it in the hands of content specialists.

Phil Daro wasn't a content specialist.

He still isn't a content specialist but he's chairing the Mathematics College and Career Readiness Standards Work Group for the new Common Core standards.

Calculators? Don't Answer

group learning lowers IQ

Chris came into the bedroom this morning to announce that group projects make you dumber. He read it on (Only dimly aware of the existence of Now I'm a fan.)

Sure enough.

Implicit signals in small group settings and their impact on the expression of cognitive capacity and associated brain responses
Attending meetings lowers IQ: research
Neuroscientists Find That Status within Groups Can Affect IQ
Group Settings Can Diminish Expressions of Intelligence, Especially Among Women, Study Finds
Warning: Meetings May be Bad for Your IQ

Thursday, June 28, 2012

just-in-time learning

Barry's new article. In my comment, I left a passage on memory consolidation from John Medina's Brain Rules:
It takes years to consolidate a memory. Not minutes, hours, or days but years. What you learn in first grade is not completely formed until your sophomore year in high school.

The Precision Teaching Book

My copy arrived today!

The Precision Teaching Book by Richard Kubina and Kirsten K. L. Yurich.

From Chapter 0:
Creating a sound educational program, like the Direct Instruction reading program, takes determined effort in the planning, creation, implementation, and subsequent review and revision of the curriculum. In other words, engineering a learning environment expressed by a well balanced, potent curriculum occurs through a reasoned and rational process. Effective learning environments establish desired behavior and require no less than a systematic analysis of human behavior.
You mean...writing an effective curriculum isn't something you can pay teachers a stipend to do for 3 days over the summer?

Even when you hire a Trailblazers consultant from Bedford?

We've had years of strife over Trailblazers here in my district, culminating in the middle school teachers complaining that kids were coming into 6th grade not knowing what they needed to know. In response, the answer was ... not to adopt Singapore Math.

The answer was to "hybridize" Trailblazers during a 3-day curriculum development stint one summer. After hybridization, Trailblazers would no longer be our curriculum; our curriculum would be Irvington Math. Problem solved.

Rejiggering Trailblazers has been an ongoing project. A year or two before we hired the lady from Bedford, I went to a board meeting at which the then-assistant superintendent for curriculum (we've had several), confronting that year's uprising, said impatiently, "People say Trailblazers is our curriculum." She rolled her eyes. "It isn't. We write our own curriculum."

That's been the answer forever: there's no problem with Trailblazers because Trailblazers isn't the curriculum.

In a couple of weeks, I'm off to the precision teaching workshop at Morningside Academy in Seattle...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

how to be hap-hap-happy like me

Being very happy does not seem to be a malfunction (Alloy and Abramson, 1979).
source: Very Happy People by Ed Diener and Martin Seligman
Good to know!

("How to be hap-hap-happy like me" is the title of a hilarious book by Merrill Markoe.)

The deathless meme of learning styles

to Michael Weiss's question re: the death of learning styles, palisadesk has this to say:
No, it's far from done. The critique in Psychology Today may mean that some people are wising up, but the meme is deeply entrenched (along with a lot of other mystical ideas about teaching and learning) in K-8 certainly, and perhaps far beyond.

We continue to have workshops and mandatory PD on how to teach to different "learning styles" (fits in well with "differentiation," you see). And since most of the curriculum people seem unaware of research in psychology or cognitive science, even though the whole idea of learning styles and "aptitude-treatment interaction" has been debunked for decades, articles in jounals are not going to affect prevailing opinion.

My district, and others that I know of, requires teachers to identify students' "learning styles" when developing lesson plans, unit plans, intervention plans, or referring student for assessment. Of course there is no real data to support this stereotyping of students -- typically, a student is labeled a "kinesthetic learner" because s/he is out of seat a lot, or likes to play with Lego. "Interpersonal learners" are so identified because they enjoy chatting with their friends, but not on the basis that this socializing actually improves their learning outcomes (in fact the opposite is more usually the case).

I notice that our psychologists, most of whom have Ph.D.'s and know their stuff, are very careful to avoid falling into the "learning styles trap, and will pointedly say that they do not measure this because it is not scientific and has no reliably quantifiable metric. However, their lack of enthusiasm fails to slow down the train. Our IEP forms have a section for "learning style." Needless to say there is no data-based information to enter there.

The absence of evidence is nothing new. Steven Stahl wrote a good article on the topic for American Educator almost 15 years ago, and it made no difference.

The meme has a life of its own, like a virus, and will be hard to dislodge.
Hegemony in action.

math in Bedford

Bedford Math

They're going to teach roman numerals even though roman numerals aren't included in Common Core.

Also, they're choosing between Singapore Math (Math in Focus) and Terc.


Irvington & Bedford

richest school districts in America

at Huffington Post


The superintendent who fought back

The "Learning Styles" Myth

"...the more carefully designed and controlled the study, the less the data supported the hypothesis that matching learning styles to type of instruction mattered."
Source: What type of learner are you? (And why it doesn't matter)

Can we finally stick a fork in this myth? I think it's done.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


A sample of 222 undergraduates was screened for high happiness using multiple confirming assessment filters. We compared the upper 10% of consistently very happy people with average and very unhappy people. The very happy people were highly social, and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups. They were more extraverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic, and scored lower on several psychopathology scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Compared with the less happy groups, the happiest respondents did not exercise significantly more, participate in religious activities significantly more, or experience more objectively defined good events. No variable was sufficient for happiness, but good social relations were necessary. Members of the happiest group experienced positive, but not ecstatic, feelings most of the time, and they reported occasional negative moods. This suggests that very happy people do have a functioning emotion system that can react appropriately to life events.
Ed Diener and Martin E.P.  Seligman
Very Happy People (pdf file)
This is a good description of my mom. I always called her a golden retriever because she was naturally cheerful.

My mom once said to me, in the middle of a conversation about the number of kids in our family who have significant problems (and after I had pointed out that optimism was her natural state): "It's true. I always think things are going to get better."

She paused, and thought for a moment.

Then said, "I don't know why," and we both laughed.

That was my mom. Someone needs to bottle the brain chemicals she had.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Hegemony, believe it or not, is a word I encountered frequently in graduate school.

Then, after finishing my Ph.D., I never heard it again, not that I recall.

Lately, though, I've found myself using the word hegemony not infrequently (God help me), using it in sentences like: "The public schools have hegemony." Or, worse: "Education schools have hegemony."

The institution of public education is so immense, so vast, so moneyed, and so intensively peopled that other corners of the culture, institutions and organizations that, by rights, ought to be entirely separate from public education, are not. Other institutions are taking their cues from public education whether they know it or not, and often they don't know it. So we see Everyday Math and Lucy Calkins in Catholic schools, and in charter schools, too.

Worst example for me personally: early on in C's sophomore year at his Jesuit high school, I think. I attended the annual Back to School Mother's Dinner, where the principal, during his remarks, told us that the school had instituted some kind of interdisciplinary required course for entering freshman because "teaching subjects in isolation is wrong."

Teaching subjects in isolation is wrong?!

This from the principal of a Jesuit school?

That's hegemony. The ideas of the ruling class hijack your mind.

Now it appears that the president of the University of Virginia has been pushed out of her job because she is not sufficiently committed to: technology, a core obsession of public schools and the public school establishment.

The Rector and Vice Rector who fired UVa's president seem to have sent each other op eds by David Brooks (writing about education), by John E. Chubb And Terry M. Moe (writing about education), and even by Atul Gawande (who appears to be to policy professionals what Malcolm Gladwell is to business professionals).

David Brooks, for God's sake! These people are reading op eds by David Brooks, and sending each other op eds by David Brooks, and then firing university presidents on the basis of op eds by David Brooks....who is possibly the last pundit on earth I would want anyone listening to on the subject of education.

Although David Brooks attended an elite university himself, although Brooks sends his own children to a Jewish day school, he seems to have no awareness that the values embodied in a major research university (and no doubt in a Jewish day school as well) are directly at odds with the values embodied by Teachers College.

That's hegemony. I haven't set foot inside a public school since the 1970s when I was a lad, but I think what Teachers College thinks.

See, e.g.:
David Brooks has a really bad idea, part 1
David Brooks has a really bad idea, part 2

As for Moe and Chubb, they are knowledgeable people, but they've pinned their hopes for school choice on the "liberating" power of education technology. I sympathize, but Good luck with that.

Moe and Chubb, in my view, have not paid sufficient attention to what history tells us about just how liberating technology in public education has been to date. At least, in this exchange between Moe & Chubb and Larry Cuban, Cuban gets the better of the argument:
LC: In tracking such technological innovations as film, radio, television, videocassettes, and desktop computers over the past half century, I found a common cycle. First, the promoters’ exhilaration splashes over decisionmakers as they purchase and deploy equipment in schools and classrooms. Then academics conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of the innovation as compared to standard practice; they survey teachers and occasionally visit classrooms to see student and teacher use of the innovation. Academics often find that the technological innovation is just as good as—seldom superior to—conventional instruction in conveying information and teaching skills. They also find that classroom use is less than expected. Formal adoption of high-tech innovations does not mean teachers have total access to devices or use them on a daily basis. Such studies often unleash stinging rebukes of administrators and teachers for spending scarce dollars on expensive machinery that fails to display superiority over existing techniques of instruction and, even worse, is only occasionally used.

Few earnest champions of classroom technology understand the multiple and complicated roles teachers perform, address the realities of classrooms within age-graded schools, respect teacher expertise, or consider the practical questions teachers ask about any technological innovation that a school board and superintendent decide to adopt, buy, and deploy.
Public school "technology" is not new.

Online learning is not new.

We've had distance learning for years now -- where's the revolution?

Where's the disruption?

Where's the new revenue stream?

Answer: nowhere. There's no revolution, there's no disruption, and there's certainly no revenue stream. Instead we have Todd Oppenheimer publishing The Computer Delusion in 1997, and Clifford Stoll following up with High Tech Heretic in 2000. It's 2012 now, and they're still right.

Trouble is, nobody knows it, and the flipped classroom is hot! hot! hot! Our pundits expect major research universities to get with the program, and (one) reason our pundits expect major research universities to get with the program is that education schools have hegemony. Pundits receive their thoughts and views from Teachers College.

The only good news I can see in all this is that we still have university presidents who are capable of observing reality and framing a proper argument:
Dr. Sullivan said that online education was no panacea — and indeed, was “surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential and unless carefully managed can undermine the quality of instruction.”
Of course, we may not have these people around much longer.

Daniel Willigham on the UVa firing.

update 6/26/2012: Brooks grew up in an academic family. Father was an English professor, mother a traveling history instructor. Today he's recruiting teachers for public schools whose idea of history is this.

help desk: J.C. progress report & question

from California, JC writes:

N will be entering the 9th grade this fall and will hopefully be enrolling in the local public high school (or maybe not). Currently in the 8th grade, N is taking his final today in Honors High School Geometry. N attained this level of competency by working year round on math ever since the 1st grade. He has not had to skip a year of instruction as the local public students have.

The local district, in its infinite wisdom, will not accept N’s transcripts showing straight A’s and Standardized test scores in the 99th percentile for mathematics as proof of his ability. In their defense, N does not have state administered test scores on the CST Algebra 1 or Geometry tests – those tests aren’t made available to home schools that operate independent of a school district. The local high school is requiring N to take a 50 question, calculation heavy, 2 hour, Geometry course challenge exam. The test will cover material from a classroom he’s never attended and a textbook he has never used. The test won’t be a neutral exam such as the standardized exams.

According to “district policy” my son must pass the challenge exam with a 90% grade or better in order to continue on in the honors track. We were not to be supplied with the answers to the study guide that was provided. We were also informed that the study guide was missing ¾ of the materials that could be included on the exam. I wouldn’t be able to correct the study guide questions, as N has passed me by mathematically speaking. Thankfully Barry G came to my rescue and worked the problem sets, and provided fantastic comments and notations which helped me to provide my son with a proper review where he was weak.

The district, county and state all refused to let N take the CST tests this spring because he wasn’t enrolled with the public schools. In May I gave N the CST retired questions for Geometry (posted on the CDE website) and he only missed 2 out of 64 questions. We also gave him the on line Algebra 1 test, and uncovered an area of weakness, which was remedied with one evening’s chalk and talk thanks to purple math - he then only missed 3 questions on the whole Algebra 1 exam.

Needless to say, I’m a bit worked up because our high school won’t accept N’s test scores and grades as proof of his abilities. It seems terribly unfair when you consider that the district students only need a B- grade on their report cards to advance to the next honors level class.

If you investigate further - our high school’s CST scores for the 9th grade single honors Geometry class indicate 75% of those honor students fail to score in the advanced category. That’s not a stellar record -- especially knowing how low the proficiency bar is set by the California Department of Education. N is trying to gain entry to the 9th grade Honors Algebra 2 course. The Algebra 2 double honors track has better CST scores with only 22% of the honors students failing to score at the advanced level. The improved performance of the upper track is likely a product of after schooling.

The administration is slamming the gate shut on students who transfer in from schools other than the local district. UPDATE: It isn’t “all” out of district transfer students who must take this exam as I had previously been informed. No, it’s just the students who come from “non traditional” high schools that must pass a challenge exam. So apparently, private home school students must out perform the majority of the local high school honors math students in order to gain admission to the honors math track. Perhaps, hypothetically speaking, it’s just the home school children of veteran math warriors who are expected to perform at this level.

This all seems so horribly unfair. N is an excellent student and has worked incredibly hard, and the standardized tests all place him at the very top. I wouldn’t be so bent out of shape if the local high school CST scores indicated that the honors classes were full of elite math stallions, but that just isn’t the case.

N finished the high school’s study guide exam and took 40 minutes longer than the 2 hour time limit they are setting on the exam. Hopefully the multiple choice exam he will be given next Tuesday will be easier to complete within the time limit otherwise, N will be getting the gate slammed shut in his face.

UPDATE: I’ve just learned the ruling we will get as a result of this test is not the final end – I can always appeal the decision! This is great! I can spend my summer vacation fighting with the school district -- and my son isn’t even in their classrooms yet.


On a happier note, I do have some good news to report. N took the California High School Proficiency Exam last Saturday. The CHSPE allows students to exit high school early, and continue their education at the community college level. Though the exam is designed for students 16 years and older, N (only 14) was able to take the exam with the permission of his “non traditional” school (heh). We will get the results in mid July.

Previously parents have posted on KTM that skipping the high school math program and moving a student up to the college level for math isn’t perhaps the best move. I do remember Wayne Bishop having once written about saving a student from the public high school system and getting him placed into a college math program early. I would like to know what those of you who frequent KTM think about taking this approach.

With the CHSPE proficiency certificate in hand, N will be able to enroll in community college courses without permission from the high school and receive dual credit for his courses. Some local home school parents even send their middle school students to the community college. N will still be able to attend the HS and play sanctioned sports as long as he attends 4 classes. A few of the ambitious local students have managed to graduate high school having also completed an Associate Arts degree.

The CHSPE does NOT allow a student to stop attending school. Students must (by law) attend classes until they reach their 18th birthday. Additionally, it’s possible the HS will refuse to allow N to receive a HS diploma and be in the graduation ceremonies if we go this route (though there may be a way to work this out). The CHSPE certificate is supposed to suffice as an equivalent document in lieu of a high school diploma and is accepted by the state of California and, I believe, the armed services though I am not sure about that.

I would appreciate hearing what KTMers think about this opportunity and look forward to reading your comments.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Diminishing marginal returns

An interesting hypothesis  
My hypothesis is that it is precisely the dumbing down of U.S. education over the last decades that explains the increase in willingness to pay for education. The mechanism is diminishing marginal returns to education. Typical graduate business school education has indeed become less rigorous over time, as has typical college education. But typical high school education has declined in quality just as much. As a result, the human capital difference between a college and high-school graduate has increased, because the first increments of education are more valuable on the job market than the later ones. It used to be that everybody could read and understand something like Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the typical college graduates could also understand Milton or Spencer. Now, nobody grasps Milton but only the college grads can process Animal Farm, and for employers the See Spot Run–>Animal Farm jump is more valuable than the Animal Farm–>Milton jump.
The author goes on to suggest that the signalling value of a college education is actually declining as well - something which tracks with a notion that I've been noodling with that online higher-education (really online certification) will start breaking down the existing higher-education structure very soon.

Once that happens - and I think it will happen - I tend to think that such a seismic shift might make it easier to add rigor back to the lower forms of schooling.  Am I hopelessly optimistic?

the leafy suburbs, part 3: other people's children

another issue re: the responsibilities of the school versus the parent

One of the issues Ms. Slaughter mentions confronting is her son's disruptive classroom behavior.

Well, suppose Ms. Slaughter and her husband fail to improve their son's classroom behavior.

Where does that leave the other kids in the classroom?

We experienced this ourselves when C. was in middle school. I remember one day talking to him about his math class, where he was learning virtually nothing due to the Death March to Algebra nature of the curriculum, we assumed. So I was interviewing him, trying to nail down whatever was or was not going on that week, and at some point in our conversation C. mentioned in passing that he could not hear what the teacher was saying in class.

You can't hear?

I had no idea what he was talking about -- I'd certainly never noticed him having trouble hearing. I was thinking, Is this one of those boy things where boys' hearing is slightly not as good as girls' hearing


It wasn't.

It turned out - news to me - that C. could not hear what the teacher was saying because he was in "the bad class," which is to say the noisy, hyperactive, out of control class. So every day was pretty much bedlam, and C. couldn't hear anything the teacher was saying because the other kids were so loud.

The other kids are so noisy you can't hear? Mind you, this was the accelerated class, the class with the kids who were headed to calculus and selective colleges. So noisy C. couldn't hear the teacher.

I was probably in my 2nd year of dealing with the school's insane curriculum at that point. It had never crossed my mind there was another whole dimension of awful going on.

At least one boy in the class had ADHD; there may have been as many as 3 boys with ADHD (I don't know). I happen to know that their parents were doing everything they could do on their end, but even if they weren't, the classroom disruption was (apparently) such that my own child could not hear what the teacher was saying.

Which of course got me to wondering whether C., who was a bit shy, had been placed in the class precisely because he was a bit shy. One of his other teachers had told me that he always had C. sit next to the noisy children as a means of classroom management (fine in that case), and C. had told me an endearing story about a very quiet little girl in his math class who, he said, was always being used as a separator for the noisy boys. "She hates it," C. said.

We can argue about the extent to which parents are responsible for their children's behavior at school.

But the school, not the parents, has to be responsible for maintaining classroom order.

It's not just that the quality of a troubled child's K-12 education shouldn't depend on his parents, which is my belief.

The quality of the other children's K-12 education shouldn't depend on that child's parents, either.

Jen on children and fate

from Jen:
I just met up with someone I hadn't seen in a while. Older child doing very well, taking a break from college to pay down loans. Has a good job, has been advancing well, lives on own, in a steady relationship, etc.

Next child has had no end of problems. Has good friends but attracted to "bad" kids. Drugs, running away, alcohol, mental health issues, etc. Parents very involved, doing everything they can to straighten child out. Have just over a year left where they can legally wield influence over child. Have been very proactive.

These parents are involved, pushed education, know kids' teachers, talk to the school, make sure homework is done, have fairly strict rules and keep track of kids, assign chores and expect them to be done. Basically, everything you would want them to be doing.

Worked on first kid. Didn't on second kid.

As this person said yesterday, "I used to think it was only bad parents who had kids that went in such a wrong direction."

It's easy to think that your child's successes are due to you and that your child's failures are due to _________ (bad teaching, society, spouse, genetics). Truth is it can be any and all or none of those things. And that the amount of control we have is similarly up in the air and diminishes with each year of age they gain!
There but for the grace of God.

What is that old saw they tell you when you come in for your SPED intake?

Mental illness is genetic. You get if from your kids.

I hope I haven't offended passersby repeating that --- I was a little shocked the first time I heard it (and, yes, I heard it when I took one of the kids in for SPED eval). But I appreciated the sentiment and still do.

As far as I can tell, nature is real. Nature and chance.

I am a strong believer in authoritative parenting. The research is there, and I was raised by authoritative parents myself; Ed, too. I know it works.

I also believe I've seen authoritative parenting work its magic with kids who have mental illnesses or behavior disorders as well as with typical kids.

But in the case of a child with a mental illness or a developmental disability or ADHD (etc.) authoritative parenting is not a cure. It is a long slog.

In my experience, when authoritative parents raise children who have significant challenges, those children may still face challenges as adults (though not always). BUT their upbringing equips them with the resilience, the determination, and the sense responsibility they need to forge their way.

That reminds me of something an editor of mine once said to me. She was a bit of a wild character, but she was keeping it together, and she told me: The secret to life is Put your demons in the back seat and TELL THEM TO KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF THE WHEEL.

Good advice!

I tell my friends who are doing everything they can do to straighten out a child, but it's still not enough: time is on your side.

I believe that.

re-run: authoritative parenting & schools

The leafy suburbs posts and comments all relate to authoritative parenting:

and, from the first ktm:

leafy suburbs, part 2

re: the leafy suburbs, Jen asks:
I have to be a bit of a devil's advocate here. Why is it that teachers are expected to do what parents here are saying they can't do?

That is, parents can't get one or two children to, say, do homework and study at home for a bit, whereas a teacher who has them for 45-50 minutes a day (or twice that every other day if block scheduled) is not only supposed to teach but also supposed to motivate them enough to do the homework and studying?
I actually have an answer to this question!

A few of them.

FIRST: Kids are often much more cooperative with other adults than with their own parents. That's why so many parents I know, parents who were trying to reteach content at home, finally gave up and hired tutors.

C. is your classic cooperative kid, and when he was in 8th grade, as I recall, we reached the point where I was shouting so much something had to give. That was when I discovered Karen Pryor's work. I remember, going into Christmas break, devouring Pryor, having a major heart to heart with myself, and vowing to do a 180 as soon as the new semester began, which I more or less did. The household was pretty close to being in crisis, and C. is a mild-mannered kid! (If Susan S is around, she'll vouch for me on that one - )

I used to think: what would be happening around here if C. weren't a mild-mannered kid?

Meanwhile, C. was having precisely zero problems at school. I think he had one - no, two - detentions in his entire 3 years at middle school, and one of the 2 was a group detention most of his math class (math again) served for being disrespectful to a substitute teacher.

SECOND: Parents really, truly don't have the training we need to deal with a lot of the stuff we deal with. Not that parents should have to have training! I'm not suggesting anything of the kind. I'm just saying that, for instance, using the principles of positive reinforcement to deal with a challenging autistic child (or a completely non challenging nonautistic child you're trying to reteach math to) does not come naturally to anyone, as far as I can tell.

Of course, teachers don't get a lot of training in behavior management, either, but schools do seem to have school psychologists these days, and at least some of them have had some real training and experience.

Good teachers do acquire an extremely impressive set of skills where classroom management is concerned, something I'm still working on. A behaviorist I know told me that classroom discipline is THE issue every new teacher faces, and that includes a new teacher who has just served a tour of duty as a Marine.

THIRD: Even if the parent is highly skilled at maintaining law and order inside the home, the parent is not inside the classroom. I can't tell you how often I've heard about school personnel assuming that parents can magically, from miles away, directly influence their children's behavior inside the classroom.

My own funniest story on this score concerns Andrew, who, a few years ago, was being very difficult on the bus. Now Andrew, as I think a fair number of you know, is autistic and nonverbal. He doesn't talk. We can talk to him, but it's not clear how much he understands.

(Andrew is also weirdly smart - this is something the teachers and aides say, btw, not just a parent fantasy .... Andrew is sui generis. I need to say that out of loyalty and also out of honesty. btw, Susan can probably attest to that one, too. Susan watched Andrew during my mother's funeral, and afterwards said to me, "I think he ordered something from Amazon.")

Anyway, Andrew was being difficult on the bus, and the head of transportation called to discuss the situation. He wanted me to make Andrew stop. Somehow I, as the parent, was supposed to be able to change my autistic child's autistic behavior on a bus. When I expressed skepticism that I would be able to influence Andrew's behavior from afar, the transportation director asked me: Can you have a talk with Andrew?

I said: Andrew doesn't talk.

The thing is: the transportation director knew Andrew doesn't talk. And yet he was on the phone asking  me to 'have a talk' with my nonverbal son.

That's an extreme example, but I've seen the same thing with ADHD kids: I've seen school personnel assume that a parent can affect an ADHD child's behavior without being present to do so.

That's not how ADHD works. In fact, it is pretty much the opposite of how ADHD works. I know a family that has done a fantastic job with their very ADHD son: meds, therapy, very strong behavioral boundaries, lots of love, authoritative parenting --- a fantastic job. Their son is a very good kid.

Nevertheless, as far as I know he was quite disruptive in classrooms through all of through middle school (not sure about high school). The classroom disruption problem in his case was really, truly a "school problem" in the sense that it was taking place inside the school. His parents had his behavior  well under control at home; I saw it. They had also taught him terrific manners; I saw those, too. But  keeping his classroom behavior under control inside a classroom without being inside the classroom themselves was not possible.

With disorders like autism and ADHD, if the school doesn't deal with the problem, it doesn't get dealt with.

FOURTH: This brings me to my final answer, which is that when a teacher can't manage a student in his or her classroom, other arrangements need to be made by the school.

This isn't just my personal opinion; it's pretty much the law. By law, a student who can't function inside a regular classroom must be evaluated, must be given an IEP (if that's what's called for), and must be educated -- by the school.

That said, I know this is an area where schools often miss the boat. The horror stories I've heard .... I think the phrase "radical inclusion" (not my term) captures it. When school administrators decide that full inclusion (what is it called now - collaborative classrooms?) is the way of the world come what may, when full inclusion collaborative classrooms include a child the teacher absolutely cannot control no matter how much special training and support s/he is given, that is wrong for all concerned. It's wrong for the child, it's wrong for the teacher, and it's wrong for the other children.

Also: full inclusion for all is a decision the school has made, not the parents. The school has a responsibility to provide a calm and safe learning environment for all children.

That is my opinion; general education children have no entitlement to nondisrupted classrooms, sad to say.