kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/25/14 - 6/1/14

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Allison and Palisadesk on high-SES versus low-SES kids and schools

Here in the Twin Cities, we are experiencing multiple and opposing forces at the same time.

Hainish, I see some low-SES kids in private schools here that are worse off than if they were in high performing low SES schools. The rest of the school is barreling along doing discovery math, and these kids have no chance to learn. High SES kids are eventually tutored privately, but low SES kids aren't. It is more noticeable in reading, where these kids get no phonics instruction, but the high SES kids eventually get IEPs and massive services to support terrible reading comprehension.

But, they are better off than being in Minneapolis public schools, where they would get no phonics and TERC investigations.

Plenty of low SES charters here are a total disaster. they may not be quite "guide on the side" but the teachers largely have no idea content matters. So there are no drills in math, no sense of what must be known year to year. No urgency.

Another big factor I see here is the "school expects home to teach math facts, but forgets to tell home that." A typical example for me is parents are shocked to find out their 4th grader is not competent at multiplication, and teacher is recommending summer school. They come to me to ask what is going wrong, and how do they help their child. Among other things, I suggest they ask teacher "how many minutes a day is spent on math facts in class?" They do, and receive the response "none".

Meanwhile, I see other schools where the parents are involved but to negative effect. In another typical example, the parents provide a steady steam of complaints if their child is not getting an A. This encourages group work and discovery learning, rather than tests that can be graded.
HAINISH: "Palisadek, if you are correct, then low-SES students in high-SES-area schools should be worse off than those in low-SES schools."

I think this may well be true, for several reasons. As Allison explained, the low-SES kids don't have the outside tutoring/afterschooling etc. that higher-income families routinely provide, and they tend (this is a generalization) to respond poorly to unstructured learning situations, which much "group work" and "exploratory learning" seems to be. They haven't got the resources at home or school to do artsy projects, may not have access to a computer or the Internet (or even a telephone!) at home, may have other responsibilities after school, not be able to afford field trips and school clubs/sports etc.

A previous school I worked at was in a neighborhood separated by a large city park from a very wealthy area of manicured million-dollar homes. The school for that neighborhood served these very affluent families, who comprised most of the enrollment, but on the edge of the neighborhood, bordering a freeway, there was a smallish public housing project. The children there also attended this school. So you had the very poor and the extremely rich. The school got allocated some extra special education staff for the "project" kids, but both socially and academically those children were isolated and tended to be academically unsuccessful. A top teacher from my school transferred there a few years ago and tells me that the great divide is still present, and the school does not have the kind of supports low-SES kids need.

For example, at my school the library has been kept open after school for parents and children to come in and use the computers for research, skill practice, homework and so on. Even though math facts are taught, many children need much more practice than can be given in class; we recommend some online sites for practice and pay for some sites where children can practice reading skills online (about 40% of our students have internet at home). Teachers also provide tutoring and support over the lunch hour and run academic clubs like math clubs and spelling clubs to reinforce basics in an engaging way.

Upper-income schools don't, in my experience, provide this kind of thing. Their students are leaving after school for Little League, swimming, horseback riding and gymnastics. Our students are leaving to care for younger siblings or help mom and dad at the bakery.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the lower-SES parents feel uncomfortable in a milieu of affluence (less so if it is a mix of working poor and working class), so parents aren't as involved in the school as they would be in one that was more reflective of their own social station.

One benefit, we do get away with a lot of direct teaching (phonics included) even though it is less than optimal. I compared my school's test results with those of one near my home, which has a median family income of 250K (I live on the poor side of the highway, LOL). My school roundly trounced this school, despite being 60% ESL and 95% nonwhite. Test results are only one indicator, but it does show that our kids are learning and we hope they will have a chance to make their way in the world.

Palisadesk says discovery learning has disappeared from low-SES schools

palisadesk writes:
I haven't seen much if any "discovery learning" emphasis outside of Kindergarten for 15 years or so, and the primary approach is definitely teacher-centric. Not so much "lecture" -- attention spans of young children are limited, so an interactive direct teaching model is more effective -- but definitely not "guide on the side." I've been in 4 low-SES schools in that time, one of them high-performing, but have seen similar instructional emphases in all of them. The quality of the instruction certainly varies (my current colleagues are almost all very effective but in other schools there was a wider spread of teaching ability).

However, I've never seen the attitude that seems to prevail in upper-SES schools, even in my district, where responsibility for kids' learning the basics is offloaded to the home. It was hammered into me from the get-go that it was MY responsibility to teach kids the things they needed to learn, not the parents' responsibility (which in many cases they did not have the resources to do anyway). It helps that the families in general support a more instructivist stance and expect us to be hammering the foundation skills. We allocate 20 minutes daily across the grades to structured practice of math skills. Counting, math facts, metric conversions, fractions, formulae -- depending on the grade. Our math results are better than those in some of the middle-class schools, which I find interesting. We are doing something right.

Even so it is an uphill struggle because many kids need far more instructional time than we can provide, and issues like absenteeism, frequent moves, family crises and hunger do affect kids' learning no matter how well we can teach them. But I haven't seen the following in any of my schools for over a decade:

1) movies shown during instructional time

2) "art" projects in reading or math.No dioramas, foldables, posters etc.

3) "discovery" learning."Guided discovery" is a bit different -- in a science activity, students might be led through a series of steps to "discover" something (really, to observe it) and detail their observations, but they aren't turned loose with stuff and expected to "discover" something.

4)"group" work with the exception of leveled groups for reading and math; when not directly taught by the teacher the groups will have individualized seatwork or follow-up assignments.

I think it may be a very different ethos in the low-SES schools. Three of my four were schools (large, with around 600-700 kids) with NO middle-income families among them. The curriculum is, supposedly, the same, but how it is delivered is very, very different.

It's a matter of where the locus of responsibility is believed to be. I and many of my colleagues believe the kids' academic progress is OUR responsibility. Perhaps in better-off neighborhoods this "locus of responsibility" is not the same. Certainly many parents here (and on some of my listservs) have shared stories that suggest it is not.

Down the rabbit hole

The opt-out movement may become a force to be reckoned with, if and when it organizes effectively. What has to happen, it seems to me, is that the movement must also be FOR something. I suggest a straight trade: two weeks of project-based learning for every day of testing AND test-prep! In other words, don’t just stay home; fight for positive changes.

The Common Core Brouhaha by JOHN MERROW on 24. APR, 2014 in 2014 BLOGS
I was sitting here mulling what a terrible fate this would be when it came to me: "two weeks of project-based learning for every day of testing AND test-prep" probably isn't a bad  description of what's happening in my district now.

That along with insane homework loads in the run-up to the tests. Parents here were complaining a couple of months ago about having to drive their kids through hours of HW every night because the middle-school teachers were worried about their evaluations.

I've seen the same thing in a neighboring district, where middle-school kids seem to spend their time either doing group projects and group discussions OR test-prep.

At least some of the time, teachers who've been trained only in constructivism equate direct instruction with cramming.

Common Core is doomed: dreaming sophomore edition

Just got off the phone with Chris, who is in Venice with his best friend D. They are hunkered inside a youth hostel tent or some such with a thunderstorm raging outside. The thunderclaps were loud even across FaceTime.

Chris says D. dreamed last night that he was taking a Common Core test. The test had math and English, and D. couldn't understand any of it -- nothing at all. The teacher giving the exam told him he had to feel the exam, "like carbon dioxide."

Here's my take: when you've got sophomores in college having nightmares about Common Core, you're in trouble.

Plus which, Hillary Clinton has never allowed the words "Common Core" to pass her lips (as far as I can tell), which tells me that if H.C. is elected Common Core is going away.

Jeb Bush is another story, of course.

Speaking of J.B., he was the subject of a glowing profile in the New York Times last week -- glowing. (The title was "Jeb Bush Gives His Party Something to Think About," but stripped of the paragraphs contrasting Bush favorably with the Republican Party, the article was still glowing.)

Back to Chris and his friend hunkered down in their youth hostel tent. D. is a proponent of the view that charter schools are bad because they take resources away from public schools. He and Chris had a one-hour argument about charter schools the other night.

I told Chris, this morning, to tell D. that if all public schools were charter schools, we wouldn't have Common Core.

D., who is not enjoying the experience of living through a violent thunderstorm INSIDE A TENT, replied that he's in a death trap and in no mood to argue about charter schools.

Chris said 'I believe in charter schools, so I'm not going to get struck by lightening.'

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Famous last words

"If we end up starting the higher standards process all over again," he recommends, "let's agree that teachers must be well-represented at the table."

John Thompson: Can the Gates Foundation Learn?
So next go-round it'll be Bill Gates, Chester Finn, the White House, the N.E.A., the A.F.T., . . . . and the membership of the N.E.A. and the A.F.T.

Good deal!

Here's a thought.

If we're going to be small-d democratic and all, next time let's have parents at the table.

Parents, taxpayers, and disciplinary specialists.

Lots of disciplinary specialists.