kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/17/13 - 11/24/13

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Anonymous weighs in

Here's a weird thought to ponder: across the land, future teachers are being taught that direct instruction is bad, that they should be the guide on the side, that the discover method is the best way to educate...but exactly HOW are they being taught this? Does a guide on the side help them to discover the enduring understanding that this is the best way to teach? I bet not. I bet they are being directly instructed not to directly instruct. Hmm...

The reason this came to mind is that I was remembering a curriculum writing workshop in which I was instructed (and it felt direct to me) that if a question has a single correct answer then it is not an essential question.

What has happened is that the understanding-by-design crowd has claimed the term "essential question" as their own special buzzword. I guess the common core crowd is using it too.

Tom Loveless on the algebra 2 problem

From Algebra II and The Declining Significance of Coursetaking:
...taking and successfully completing an Algebra II course, which once certified high school students’ mastery of advanced topics in algebra and solid preparation for college-level mathematics, no longer means what it once did. The credentialing integrity of Algebra II has weakened.

The declining significance of successfully completing Algebra II highlights a dilemma. Pushing students to take more advanced coursework has been a mainstay of American school reform for several decades. That prescription has worked in boosting enrollments. In 1986, less than half of all 17 year-olds (44%) had completed Algebra II, and for Black and Hispanic students, the rate was less than a third. Completing Algebra II is now commonplace. In 2012, about three-fourths of students completed Algebra II, and the race/ethnicity gaps associated with taking the course have narrowed significantly. (All NAEP data below are from the NAEP data explorer.)

Getting more students to take higher level math courses may be a hollow victory. It has not coincided with students learning more math.

Worse than you think, non-Common Core edition

After a 3-year hiatus, I have returned to my district's school board meetings. I am, once again, a regular.

It's been somewhat fun.

It's also been interesting in that I discovered, on my first night 'back,' that I had missed the board. Missed as in missed members of the board as people for whom I feel a great deal of affection. I was happy to see them again, after so long away.


I've spent years attempting to reform my district, and being frustrated by the administration and by whoever was currently serving on the board who wasn't someone I helped elect.

And Chris's middle school years were harrowing.

But Chris's middle school years are well behind us now, and come to find out, my essential emotion today, where board members are concerned, is: affection. I am fond of our school our school board members, collectively and individually.

I seem to feel the same way about our administrators. (That's really weird.)

Ed says I have become the loyal opposition.

Anyway, it's somewhat fun to be back.

The somewhat comes from the content of board meetings, which is never what I want. Or, rather, it's (sometimes) in the vicinity of what I want, but it's not what I actually want.

Plus, there are surprises.

Last Tuesday night's surprise was the revelation that the district does not have an early reading curriculum.

At all.

I had been assuming we had a bad one. Last I checked we have something like 18% of kids going into 'Tier 2' intervention, and I'm pretty sure that number would be 10% with a good reading curriculum. (I hope palisadesk is around to weigh in.)

So I had just naturally been assuming that we have a really bad early reading curriculum the same way we had a really bad math curriculum in K-5 and a really bad reading curriculum in the middle school.

But no.

We don't have any early reading curriculum at all.

The funny (ha-ha) thing about this is that back when Ed and I first moved to town we became dimly aware of what seemed to be chronic conflicts at the board level re: not enough textbooks to go around. Various classes didn't have enough textbooks, and somehow enough textbooks were never bought or budgeted for or who knows what, and teachers were getting in trouble for spilling the beans to parents about the not-enough-textbooks situation, until finally the then-board president took matters in his own hands and decreed that enough textbooks be ordered at once and distributed to students. That's the story I heard, at any rate.

So it's path dependency.

We have always been a district with a not-enough-textbooks problem, and we are evolving into a district with no textbooks at all.

I'm sure regular attendance at board meetings will reverse that trend.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Resources for the ACT test?

My daughter is a junior and in the middle of the test taking year. I went back through all the posts and gathered the resources on the SAT. Does anyone have a similar set of resources for the ACT test?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wrecking rigorous math in high school, non Common Core edition

Lots of folks are up in arms about the "lowered" standards in high school, courtesy of Common Core. Meanwhile STEM preparation is degrading here, no CC necessary.

Let's recap:
In 2007, MN adopted "better, more rigorous!" standards that they claimed were the tops in the nation, matching MA and CA. In these, all 8th graders were required to take Algebra through the algebra of the line. This would now be called "algebra 1", and algebra 1 was no longer a credit bearing course in high school. Also in these changes, all high schoolers were required to take algebra 2 before graduation. The standards defining algebra 2 covered only those subjects expected to be
learned to mastery. These standards did not include trigonometry nor logarithms nor other kinds of mathematics.

In 2011, the standards were rolled in. The state did not change the teacher credentialing requirements for 8th grade math teachers.

The new Algebra 1 class looked like old Algebra 1 to parents. Except it's only 1/2 of the algebra they knew. And Algebra 2 is about 1/2 of the algebra 2 they knew. But there's no way to be half a year ahead, though, for most schools, and therefore, for kids. So the new alg 1 is the only alg 1, and the only alg 2 is the rest of the old alg 1 and 1/2 of old alg 2.
Content including trig, logs, complicated factoring, circular functions, all of this is now in pre calc.
Limits, sequences and series, graphing of high order functions, de Moivre's theorem, etc. is now in most APcalc classes.

Now, schools cheat this by offering a year  for AP calc AB, they claim, and a year for AP calc BC.

But this is a sham. A 5 of the AB test is mathematically no less than a 4 on the the BC,  because the BC test simply does not offer that much more material than a competent calculus course would already have offered. While it does offer new topics, it most definitely does not offer multivariate calc, which is the 2nd term of calc in any semester-based engineering or STEM calculus sequence, and the third term at any quarter based university calc sequence. recap: we in MN, without CC, teach algebra earlier now, and as a result, kids leave no better off where they did before in terms of knowledge, but a year behind the titles of the courses they are taking.  They and their parents are misled about what they know and what they have been taught when.

For the majority, they basically take pre calc, same as always. But for the honors kids who used to get a real AP course that really was the equivalent of the first semester of calculus, they are screwed. They no longer get that, or they only do by taking finding some school supposedly giving them alg 2 in 8th grade--who is qualified for that???? and then, they still only get as far as 1 term of college calc. Likely they waste a year instead of learning something for real.

This means without 2 years of supposed hs calc, they are not ready for calc based physics in college.

This can't be blamed on Common Core. This can't be blamed on ed schools, either.

This is the Cargo Cult of education (a phrase I coined here UPDATE! below) and the Cargo Cult of politics. We walk around, mimicking what real people once did, pretending that coconut headphones and a guy waving sheets as if they are semaphores on the tarmac will bring back the cargo planes.

The legislature pretended that decreeing students do something earlier was the same as doing it well.
The legislature pretended decreeing everyone take algebra 2 would make them capable of it.
The Dept of Ed pretended to concur and changed the content of the standard.
The publishers pretended to concur and changed the content of the books.
The schools pretended to concur and changed the content of the courses.
The teachers pretended to concur and gave everyone high grades.
The parents and students ...well? some pretend their schools are still great. Some are duped until college. And even then, most just want someone else to pay for the student loans they had to take for remediation, not yet angry about the remediation.
 But the kids who used to be ready for an engineering degree program are no longer ready, and are losing ground compared to their foreign counterparts.

Until people admit reality we will keep playing these games.

From the MN dept of ed Math 2007 standards FAQ
"Some algebra II material is introductory in nature and lays the foundation for future courses. Students are not expected to master such material. For example, logarithms are usually introduced in algebra II, but mastery of the fundamentals of logarithms is not expected until precalculus or college algebra. For this reason, logarithms are not mentioned in the 9-11th grade standards and benchmarks."

UPDATE: E. D. Hirsch first used the phrase Cargo Cult here to refer to the state of educational research. My use of it was independent of this, and somewhat different.