Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bad advice

Over at edspresso there is a fascinating series of articles written by an ed student using the pseudonym John Dewey. In one of the installments, the student quotes from the textbook the class is using:

A case in point is the textbook we are reading in my math teaching methods class. The textbook is "Teaching Mathematics in Secondary and Middle School" by James S. Cangelosi. Excerpt from Chapter 4:

"Because mathematics is widely misunderstood to be a linear sequence of skills to be mastered one at a time in a fixed order, some people think teaching mathematics is a matter of following a prescribed curriculum guide or mathematics textbook. ...
This statement makes me shudder. Math is brutally cumulative and a linear sequence of skills is often necessary. For example, how can you reduce fractions without having learned division? Leave it to ed schools to mistrain teachers in such an egregious fashion. One can only hope math continues to be "widely misunderstood."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Long division

If you listen in on the math wars, you'll notice that long division is one of the more divisive issues in this war. It's hard to comprehend why fuzzy math zealots are so opposed to teaching long division and making such a fuss. For example, NCTM in its so-called standards calls for "decreased attention" to long division. I've taught long division and the kids caught on quickly.

In a paper called The Role of Long Division in the K-12 Curriculum that should be must-reading for educationists, David Klein and R. James Milgram show that long division is a crucial skill necessary to understand more advanced math concepts:

Abstract
We discuss the role of long division in the K - 12 mathematics curriculum. We begin by reviewing the reasons that most math educators today depreciate the topic and other topics in the curriculum that derive from it, such as polynomial long division or polynomial factorization. Later we show that this view is simply wrong mathematically. The role of long division is not just to divide one rational number by another, but the algorithm itself contains the initial exposure of topics which become crucial in the core
applications of mathematics in our society today. Following the introduction, we discuss methods for teaching long division in such a way that the underlying concepts can be understood by students. We then provide more details about the ways in which these concepts develop in later mathematics course, and why they are so important.
After reading this, the mysteries of real numbers and the conversion of fractions to decimals will become much clearer. Isn't conceptual understanding what the fuzzies purport to be after? So why are they opposing a tool that leads to a conceptual understanding of major math topics?

UPDATE: Reader Katie has left an incredible link to an actual conversation between a phone customer and a number of customer reps (supervisors) that sounds more like an Abbott and Costello routine. It's about telling the difference between dollars and cents expressed in decimal form. The reps never get it and instead rely on a calculator without realizing what they are doing. This should give pause to NCTM and fellow fuzzies and their enthusiasm for calculators.

What is absolutely hilarious is that at the end the rep (supervisor) declares that the difference between the customer's correct math and the rep's fuzzy math is a matter of opinion.

More here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Scores and class size

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the astonishing news that some of the highest-scoring Chicago public schools also have the largest class sizes:


Small, medium or large. What class size would you choose for your child? Today, in the second of two parts -- what may seem counterintuitive: Some of the best test scores are being racked up by Chicago schools with some of the largest primary class sizes.

If you're looking for a high-scoring Chicago public school, be prepared to accept larger class sizes in the early grades, just when some experts say smaller classes count the most.

The 25 highest-scoring schools in CPS average roughly seven more kids in their primary classrooms than the 25 highest-scoring suburban schools, or about 27 kids vs. 20, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of state public school data indicates.

That's seven more kids in a CPS room just as children are learning everything from how to read to how to sit quietly at a desk and do classwork. Compared with the statewide primary average, it's roughly six more kids.

At top Chicago public schools, K-3 classrooms with at least 30 students aren't unusual. Meanwhile, many kids in top suburban schools enjoy the intimacy -- and efficiency -- of 16, 18 or 19 kids in a class.

Rising scores in some Chicago neighborhood schools -- among the system's most affluent -- have brought a rising tide of students, jamming classes to the point where some parents want relief. Even some of the city's most popular magnet schools have 30-plus classes, often because of the extra teacher bigger classes bring.

At first glance, the results at Edgebrook School, on the Far Northwest Side, seem to stand common sense on its head.

In 2004-2005, Edgebrook's sole first-grade room held a whopping 40 students. That year, the school posted the highest test score among the city's neighborhood schools, yet it had the largest primary class sizes in the six-county area. At least two of its tested grades that year -- third and eighth -- held 30 or more students.
At first glance this would seem to give ammunition to those who contend that class size doesn't matter. However, it would be a mistake to generalize from the cases reported above. The crucial element that allows large class sizes is the quality of the student body. Edgebrook School is a case in point. The school is located in an affluent area and peopled by students enjoying a high socio-economic status. This success could not be replicated in large classrooms filled with the disadvanted, many of whom suffer from behavior disorders. Such students need more intensive teacher attention.

Via Joanne Jacobs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reading instruction breakthrough

The Chicago Tribune has a report on innovative reading instruction methods. I expect reading scores to be boosted significantly as a result.

In Leah Coffey's kindergarten class, learning to read means breaking a sweat and getting your hands dirty.

One morning last week, Coffey put in a CD with infectious drumbeats and pupils repeated the names of different instruments. "T-T-T-Tambourine," they sang as they danced and smacked invisible tambourines.

Later, Coffey and four pupils dipped their hands into a can of clay. First, they molded the letter T. They then flattened the clay into discs.

"T-T-T-Tambourine," they said and tapped the clay tambourines against their hands.

Westcott Elementary School, 409 W. 80th St. on the South Side, has joined 17 other Chicago public schools in implementing a curriculum from Reading in Motion, a Chicago agency that uses music, drama and dance to teach reading.

Coffey is sold on the concept. "I think that every lesson should be put to music," she said.

Reading in Motion is one of several organizations supported by Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving, a campaign of Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Tribune Foundation fund.
The way I learned to read way back then was so incidental that I can't even remember how it was done.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Glue guns shoot down real studying

Time-consuming and often pointless projects are not only devouring students' time but also rob parents of whatever free time they have. Acquiring substantive subject matter knowledge must inevitably take a back seat.

Ken DeRosa has found a mother's plea that calls for an end to this educationist extravaganza:

It can wreck marriages and destroy family life, and it's more burdensome than travel soccer, football practice, or the Boy Scouts: It's the school project.

Ask a bunch of mothers how they spent their week, and they will tell you that they built the Parthenon with sugar cubes, the Pyramids from milk cartons, and Mount Olympus using Cocoa Puffs.

Consider a recent Sunday evening at my house. The kids had gone to bed, and Mom and Dad were relaxing in the living room. But suddenly, a voice cried out from upstairs.

"Mom, I forgot I need to bring a hot glue gun to school tomorrow for a project. We are making African masks in social studies. And, oh yeah, Mom, I also need pipe cleaners, a box of sugar cubes, and some wooden spoons - you know, the kind they use with those little ice cream cups."

Half-dressed, I hopped into my minivan and searched for a hardware store open late on a Sunday. Thank goodness for the 24-hour Walgreens, where aisles are filled with construction paper, glue sticks, and pipe cleaners - but, alas, no hot glue guns.

Please, oh please, dear curriculum developers, give us parents a break: Ban all make-work projects. Parents have jobs, too, you know. We do our children's homework. We serve on school boards, coach basketball, and volunteer with the Boy Scouts. Now you want us to be creative?!
The project method was widely acclaimed by progressive educationists upon its publication by William H. Kilpatrick in 1918. It has become a mainstay in education thanks to a convergence of educationist fads, tenets and theories. Illinoisloop has one of the best explanations of this mania that I have ever seen:

• Constructivism:
The pervasive education religion of "constructivism" holds that a child learns best through active "doing". To some extent, this is of course true. However, the Achilles heel of constructivism is that this is a painfully plodding and tedious way of learning, while forcing a drastic reduction (dumbing down) of the content of a course. While an active project may often be a good technique for making a difficult concept clear, it is often used when a simple direct method would be just as effective and far more efficient.

• Groups:
The pressure for "collaborative learning" or "cooperative learning" is frequently met with more projects and activities.

• Interdisciplinary curriculum:
Teachers are under pressure to find "thematic" or "interdisciplinary" links between subjects. There is nothing inherently wrong with that -- the Core Knowledge Sequence used in the Core Knowledge schools is carefully constructed to encourage learning in this way. But without a rigorous, well-reasoned curriculum like the CK Sequence, the result too often is time-wasting art or writing projects linking vague language arts goals with minimal content points.

• Multiple Intelligences:
The fevered success of another fad, Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (click for much more info on that), pressures teachers into coming up with separate projects for each of this theory's supposed categories. So, we have one project to appeal to "kinesthetic" children, another project for the "intrapersonal" learners, we sing a song for the "musical" learners, and so on. Of course, since the MI mindset offers no method to identify or quantify these supposed differences, the bottom line is lots and lots of projects for all the children in the class.

• Anti-Fact Mentality:
Starting in ed school and throughout their careers in most schools, teachers are subjected to a barrage of rhetoric about the dangers of teaching facts. They are told not to teach "mere facts" to be "regurgitated." Learning of specific content knowledge is called "low level" and nothing more than "memorization." What used to be called "learning" is now disparaged as "brain-stuffing". A teacher is to be "a guide on the side" rather than "a sage on the stage." This drumbeat from the ed schools and education orthodoxy is pervasive and relentless, and teachers are drilled incessantly (ironic, isn't it?) that direct teaching is to be avoided. So, if the teacher isn't teaching, what are the kids likely to be doing? Yup, more projects.

• Anti-Fact Assessments:
If facts are bad, then testing whether children know facts is even worse -- or so teachers are told. Thus, chapter tests and other quantitative measures of learning are deemphasized in favor of so-called "authentic" assessment, in which we look at a whole "portfolio" of a child's "work" which largely consists of (ta da!) projects.

• "Authentic" Skills:
If the purpose of a school is not to build knowledge, then what is a school for? The progressivists have a ready answer for that: to learn supposed "skills." They argue that since knowledge is always increasing, it is hopeless to try to teach very much at all (using a twisted logic that defies comprehension). What kids need, they say, is to learn how to look things up. Well, guess what? Projects give them an "opportunity" to look things up instead of being taught.

• Innovation:
School administrators suppose themselves to be seen as "creative" or "innovative." We often read of a school calling itself "innovative" or a teacher said to be "creative" ort "imaginative." Those are fine attributes, but not when they take the place of words like "effective" or "knowledgeable." One teacher might be extraordinarily effective and captivating in teaching children a rich, detailed and memorable introduction to American history, while another teacher gains more recognition from parents and maybe the local newspaper not by teaching much of anything but by staging a marathon dress-up pageant, puppet show or enormous craft project.

• Finding a Use for Computers:
Projects provide a convenient raison d'etre for the expensive computers that schools have been buying in bulk.

• Smaller Class Sizes:
For all of the above reasons, the teaching industry is obsessive about urging more dubious classroom projects. But when class sizes are large, it's extremely difficult to manage the hubbub of activity and to try to keep a semblance or order. But as class sizes shrink, it becomes ever more practical for a teacher to assign more and more projects.

On that same page, Illinoisloop has many links to important articles dealing with this project mania.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Memorization need not be rote

One of the most puzzling elements of the progressive/constructivist ed creed is its hostility to knowledge. One would assume that the acquisition of knowledge should be a major component of the educational enterprise. How can one explain such a hostility to knowledge by people who purport to be "educators"?

Part of the answer can be found in these observations by Claudia Winkler in a piece called The Difference Between Thinking and Knowing. It's a confusion that equates committing knowledge to memory with rote memorization. Since mindless memorization is bad, and apparently educationists preclude the possibility of thoughtful memorization, nothing should be committed to memory. The result, in Winkler's felicitous phrase, is that ignorance is dressed up as superior thoughtfulness:

But not all memorization is learning by rote. To commit something to memory isn't necessarily to learn it "without understanding or thought." As anyone knows who's tried it, retaining facts is much easier when you see how they fit into a larger picture that makes sense.

Yet in a subtle bit of linguistic sleight of hand, the pejorative term "rote memorization" is commonly used as synonymous with memorization tout court. It's almost always contrasted with comprehension and critical thinking--as if knowing things and thinking about things were mutually exclusive.

Thus, to cite an altogether commonplace example, an article praising a new schoolbook on local history, in the Queens edition of Newsday, notes, "Activities in the booklet draw on an array of skills, stressing thinking and analysis over rote memorization of facts."

One can't help wondering what it is the children are to analyze--what exactly they are to think about--if their starting point is not to be a command of the specifics recounted in the book.

This conflation of mindless, blab-school, learning-by-rote with the necessary, if sometimes painful, committing of information to memory has a sordid effect: to dress up ignorance as superior thoughtfulness. Implicitly, it disparages the intake of knowledge--once the very essence of classroom learning--as an activity fit only for drones.
Memory is a precious gift. The educationist war against memory seems utterly perverse.

Hat tip: Illinoisloop

Great comment added by Quincy:

Winkler is right, but I wish she had pressed further along her line of thought. What needs to be broken is the concept that for the recall of information to be thoughtful, it must be effortful. When constructivist educators look at kids who have cold mastery of their math facts, they assume the quick, easy response must be some sort of Pavlovian conditioning, not "genuine" learning. In fact, it is learning of the most important kind--that which, through its thoroughness, frees up the mind to think about more advanced things.

I attribute this flaw in constructivist thinking to their continual focus on external process. If the kids LOOK like they're being thoughtful, then they're being thoughtful. More often than not, though, the kids look thoughtful because they're trying hard to understand something they weren't sufficiently taught.

In maintaining this illusion of thoughtfulness, the constructivists are actually denying kids the wonderfully frenetic rush that comes when ideas that have been percolating through the layers of accumulated knowledge come to the surface. In doing so, they deny the fact that each of us, because of our own life experiences, our own personalities, our own desires, will spin the same piece of information different ways in this process.

In sticking to the idea that memorization is bad, the constructivists are denying their students the chance to create, the chance to innovate, and the chance to contribute their thoughts to the wealth of human knowledge. Remember, these are the same people who crow oh so often about diversity. Yet they, with their backwards mentality towards learning, are destroying the most important type of diversity for the human race to achieve--diversity of thought. Whether this is intentional or simple carelessness I do not know, but it is damning for them none the less.

This WSJ item on the blessings and curse of memory caught my eye: http://www.opinionjournal.com/weekend/fivebest/?id=110009912

Unforgettable

A Nobel-winning neurologist's favorite books on memory.

BY ERIC KANDEL Saturday, April 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

1. "Ficciones" by Jorge Luis Borges (Grove, 1962).
Memory is the scaffold that holds our mental life together. One of its most remarkable characteristics is that it has no restraints on time and place. Memory allows you to sit in your living room while your mind wanders back to childhood, recalling a special event that pleased or pained you. This time-travel ability, often sparked by a sensory experience that opens the floodgates of memory, is central to much great fiction. It is described in the most detail in Marcel Proust's million-word classic, "Remembrance of Things Past," in which a madeleine dipped in tea famously prompts an onrush of images from the protagonist's childhood. But one of the most fascinating descriptions of memory in fiction can be found in Jorge Luis Borges's seminal short-story collection, "Ficciones," first published in 1945 in Spanish. Borges, who knew for much of his life that he was slowly going blind from a hereditary disease, had a deep sense of the central and sometimes paradoxical role of memory in human existence. This sense informs much of "Ficciones" but particularly the story "Funes, the Memorious," which concerns a man who suffers a modest head injury after falling off a horse and, as a result, cannot forget anything he has ever experienced, waking or dreaming. But his brain is filled only with detail, crowding out universal principles. He can't create because his head is filled with garbage! We know that an excessively weak memory is a handicap, but, as Borges shows, having too good a memory can be a handicap as well--the capacity to forget is a blessing.

Did it, or didn't it?

The media keeps reporting that NCTM saw the light and now wants real math to be taught, and NCTM keeps denying it. The latest instance is this NYT report:

Across the nation, the reconsideration of what should be taught and how has been accelerated by a report in September by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading group of math teachers.

It was a report from this same group in 1989 that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math, and use tools like the calculator at the same time they learn algorithms.

But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to “mile wide, inch deep” state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals.
Maybe if told for the umpteenth time that it did, NCTM will come to believe that it did.

For those interested in a lot of conceptual math there is a series of teacher training videos funded by the Annenberg project. (Simple registration required). You won't get computational fluency and procedural knowledge out of them but they can certainly stretch your mind. Nevertheless, these conceptual exercises ultimately meant for pupils shouldn't displace computational fluency and procedural knowledge. They also can make simple procedures extraordinarily complicated. This is the impression I got when watching Video 8. Rational Numbers and Proportional Reasoning in which operations with fractions are modeled with Cuisenaire rods. It left me confused. If I were a child, I would conclude that operations with fractions are enormously complicated and intimidating. I would develop a phobia toward fractions and wait for the spiral to come around in a year or two.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

MI circus

Recently, I had occasion to watch Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory in action. The theory took the form of a questionnaire to be given to students. Instruction is to be geared to the "intelligences" of each student as uncovered by the questionnaire. The questions were culled from a book called So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences.

According to the latest count there are eight intelligences, though more are rumored to come. I was most curious about the bodily-kinesthetic and naturalist "intelligences". What questions would be asked to determine if a student fits these categories? Now I know the asnwer. A student has a naturalist intelligence if he gives a high rating to the following questions (a sample only):

I like being outside whenever possible. [Who woldn't prefer the outdoors to a stuffy classroom?]

I am good at forecasting changes in natural phenomena (e.g. rain and the coming of seasons). [Gee, I can predict the seasons. Less so snow and rain]

I like hiking and camping. [Don't most kids?]

I feel comfortable and confident outdoors. [So do I, but not when grizzly bears or rattlesnakes are around]

Here are a few bodily-kinesthetic questions:

I often talk with my hands. [In some countries like Italy and Argentina it's part of the culture]

If I can't move around, I get bored. [Who wants to sit around all day?]

I need to manipulate things with my hands to know how they work. [Who doesn't?]

Now I am waiting for the results to come in and for the instructional implications that will flow from them. Classes might have to be held in the wild. Wouldn't that be something.

As Gardner ponders new intelligences, it might serve the learning enterprise much better to adopt the intelligences discovered by Will Fitzhugh and posted at Right on the Left Coast:

In keeping with that view, I offer the following suggestions of Alternative Multiple Intelligences whose development should be most likely to contribute to the education of the majority of our students. Perhaps the most important is Paying Attention Intelligence. Without paying attention, it is truly astounding how much instruction even the average student is capable of ignoring on any given day, and as the word suggests, ignoring is the primrose path to Ignorance. Memorization Intelligence is seen as old fashioned, except when it applies to the names of music groups, sports or movie stars, and clothing or soft drink brands. Nevertheless, if students don’t remember anything, that is pretty close to the same thing as their not knowing anything. If a student is asked for the dates of the United States Civil War or the name of the first female Secretary of Labor, and she says, “I don’t remember,” that is the functional equivalent, for all practical purposes, of admitting, “I don’t know.”

Of course there is a storm of debate among professional educators, or rather between professional educators and the rest of the country, over the importance of knowledge as such, with the educators coming down on the side of correct sentiment fueled by general ignorance and propaganda, but let us put that aside for the moment. If one can accept, at least provisionally, that some knowledge may be useful for some purpose as an outcome of education, then Recognition Intelligence and Recall Intelligence, so useful on tests of knowledge, become central as well. When it comes to writing, I would argue, in the face of the united opposition from the National Council of Teachers of American English, that Punctuation Intelligence and Spelling Intelligence are also essential.

Another often neglected but vital talent for students is Hard Work Intelligence or Diligence Intelligence. We have so often in recent decades taught students that creativity is far more important than work, and that if they are not the smartest student in the class they should give up trying to do their academic work and fall back on their innate creativity and capacity for having fun instead...

There are many other neglected Intelligences not supported by Professor Gardner, such as Courtesy Intelligence, Time Management Intelligence, Turning in Homework Intelligence, Papers in on Time Intelligence, Seeking Extra Help Intelligence, Taking Personal Responsibility Intelligence, Asking Questions Intelligence, etc. In these cases, at least, it seems Tradition still Knows Best...
Daniel T. Willingham critically analyses MI claims here:

What would you think if your child came home from school and reported that the language-arts lesson of the day included using twigs and leaves to spell words? The typical parent might react with curiosity tinged with suspicion: Is working with twigs and leaves supposed to help my child learn to spell? Yes, according to Thomas Armstrong, author of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, especially if your child is high in “naturalist” intelligence—one of eight distinct intelligences that Harvard University scholar Howard Gardner claims to have identified. However, if your child possesses a high degree of what Gardner terms “bodily-kinesthetic” intelligence, Armstrong suggests associating movement with spelling. For example, a teacher might try to connect sitting with consonants and standing with vowels.
It's astonishing how semantic legerdemain can whip educationists into a frenzy. Hardly anyone would have noticed if Gardner had described preferences, abilities, aptitudes and talents instead of labeling these characteristics "intelligences". Much nonsense would have been avoided.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nasal intelligence

Nasal learners fight for their rights.

COLUMBUS, OH--Backed by olfactory-education experts, parents of nasal learners are demanding that U.S. public schools provide odor-based curricula for their academically struggling children.

"Despite the proliferation of countless scholastic tests intended to identify children with special needs, the challenges facing nasal learners continue to be ignored," said Delia Weber, president of Parents Of Nasal Learners, at the group's annual conference. "Every day, I witness firsthand my son Austin's struggle to succeed in a school environment that recognizes the needs of visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic learners but not him."

Weber said she was at her "wit's end" trying to understand why her son was floundering in school when, in May 1997, another parent referred her to the Nasal Learning Research Institute in Columbus. Tested for odor-based information-acquisition aptitude, Austin scored in the 99th percentile.


A nasal learner struggles with an odorless textbook.

[From The Onion]

Monday, November 06, 2006

More "tutoring"

More fun and games masquerading as "tutoring":

Do you like working with kids? Do you want to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged students in Chicago?

Come be a tutor for Brain Hurricane! We will train you this week, and you will start tutoring next week!

Brain Hurricane uses fun, hands-on activities to teach reading and math skills. We provide free hands-on tutoring to poor students in failing schools. Our mission is to make learning fun, and extend these opportunities to students who do not normally receive them.

Our tutoring program uses fun and engaging hands-on learning activities. Students enjoy working with their hands, interacting with teammates, and learning important math and reading skills in a way that is very different from the normal school day.
I am afraid the best way to improve reading skills is to acquire decoding skills and to actually read, and then to read some more. If a tutor is there to guide and correct, so much the better. The same goes for practicing math.

Rearranging deck chairs

Will it make a difference?

Merit pay experiment

Chicago's schools will start experimenting with merit pay thanks to a generous federal grant:

That's just what the school system plans to do with a $27.5 million federal grant, which will make Chicago the largest district in the country to experiment with merit pay for teachers. Under the plan, 40 struggling schools with high teacher turnover would hire "master teachers" who would receive an extra $15,000 annually and "mentor teachers" who would make an extra $7,000. They would train staff and help evaluate teachers for bonuses of up to $9,000 a year.
While I am not opposed to the idea of merit pay in principle, I think it is tinkering around the edges when it comes to schools with a high concentration of the disadvantaged. The academic underperformance at these schools is so severe that even "master teachers" (whatever that is) are unlikely to make much of a dent. At such schools the whole-class approach does not work. Students lack a minimal academic background, have dismal study habits and the highly behaviorally disordered form a critical mass that effectively shuts down instruction. What is needed is a type of Marshall Plan of small-group instruction that allows a more intense academic involvement under more manageable conditions.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Victims of fuzzy math?

A Kentucky couple, both blond rednecks, had 9 children. They went to the doctor to see about getting the husband "fixed". The doctor gladly started the required procedure and asked them what finally made them make the decision--why after nine children, would they choose to do this.

The husband replied that they had read in a recent article that one out of every ten children being born in the United States was Mexican, and they didn't want to take a chance on having a Mexican baby because neither of them could speak Spanish.

Reading scandal (LC vs. UC)

I found this curious item in Education News about the purported Reading First scandal. It appears that the Inspector General findings did not distinguish between "direct instruction" as an instructional method and "Direct Instruction" as a commercial product. Could the real scandal be an inability to distinguish between lower case and upper case on the part of OIG?

Two of the major findings dealt with what the Inspector General considered to be "stacking" of the panels with people who were advocates of Direct Instruction programs." Although not required, the Department developed a process to screen expert review panelists for conflicts of interest; however, the Department's process was not effective. We identified six panelists whose resumes revealed significant professional connections to a teaching methodology that requires the use of a specific reading program" (page 4).The conclusion drawn by Inspector General (see page 17 for documentation that the specific methodology was direct instruction) seems to be based on a misunderstanding of the difference between: 1) a general teaching methodology (direct instruction) that incorporates systematic and explicit teaching and is incorporated into a growing number of instructional programs targeting at-risk populations and 2) a specific group of commercial programs referred to as Direct Instruction programs.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Not following through on PFT

This article discusses how the most extensive study of instructional programs ever conducted was ignored by the ed establishment. The findings did not sit well with cherished educationist notions.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Don't let them TERC you around

Linda Moran advises a handwringing dad on afterschooling. It's a measured and thoughtful response well worth reading, albeit a tad too measured for my taste.

The fearful dad writes:

Our two children (daughter - grade 4 and son - grade 1) attend a mostly wonderful private school. I say mostly wonderful because parents have been unhappy with the Math programs there for a while.

This Fall the school announced that they would be adopting TERC later in the year (apparently there is a new version of the TERC curriculum that they are waiting for). I am afraid that this will make matters worse, not better.

Our daughter is very bright; she is particularly strong in reading, writing and languages. My concern is not performance, but rather her attitude. She finds math frustrating and is learning to dislike the subject. This for a kid who otherwise loves school so much she can't wait for summer vacation to end. She prefers book stores to toy stores. You get the idea.
It's tragic that fuzzy math not only cheats children but also makes them hate "math". I would say that the academic well-being of one's children comes first and that concerns over hurting the feelings of educationists shouldn't enter the picture.

It's also remarkable that people pay for private schools only to have them feed fuzzy math to their children.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Math homework

Weapons of Math Destruction has a collection of hilarious cartoons on the fuzzy math plague.






Lots of useful information on the math wars at this companion site.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dead horses and educationists

Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, the educational establishment often tries other strategies with dead horses, including the following:

1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Saying things like "This is the way we always have ridden this horse."
4. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
5. Increasing the standards to ride dead horses.
6. Appointing a committee to study the dead horse.
7. Waiting for the horse's condition to improve from this temporary downturn.
8. Providing additional training to increase riding ability.
9. Passing legislation declaring "This horse is not dead."
10. Blaming the horse's parents.
11. Acquiring additional dead horses for increased speed.
12. Declaring that "No horse is too dead to beat."
13. Providing additional funding to increase the horse's performance.
14. Commissioning a study to see if private contractors can ride it cheaper.
15. Removing all obstacles in the dead horse's path.
16. Taking bids for a state-of-the art dead horse.
17. Declaring the horse is "better, faster and cheaper" dead.
18. Revising the performance requirements for horses.
19. Saying the horse was procured with cost as an independent variable.
20. Raising taxes (any excuse will do).
21. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tutoring charade

One of the NCLB provisions calls for tutoring students after school. "Tutoring" may have a specific meaning in the minds of lawmakers but leads to a travesty when not nailed down in the law. In bureaucratese, "tutoring" as demanded by the law is known as Supplemental Educational Services (SES). It turns out that "tutoring" can mean anything private SES companies -- many of which are raking in big bucks in mass operations -- wish it to mean.

Here is an example of a SES company advertising for "tutors" in the Chicago area:

Tutor 6th grade students in math and reading...

[...]

We provide all materials and curriculum. The curriculum is hands-on and utilizes multiple intelligences. Students love it! Students learn math and reading by solving mysteries, playing games, acting out plays, and doing art projects. The program makes learning and teaching fun!
I think it takes more than "solving mysteries, playing games, acting out plays, and doing art projects" to become proficient in math. Once again, the disadvantaged who are supposed to benefit from the law are being short-changed. Nobody in officialdom seems to be watching.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Reading scandal

Formidably prolific Ken DeRosa of D-ED RECKONING has done a yeoman's job dissecting (in multiple installments) the purported Reading First scandal which, by all appearances, is a pseudo-scandal.

The intent of the law was to fund reading programs with a scientific research base and to weed out fashionable but worthless whole-language programs. OIG is barking up the wrong tree.

Fuzzy math behemoth cracking?

Could the fuzzy math steamroller be showing signs of sputtering?

Teens and Tweens, a site devoted to "understanding-based" math education that gratifyingly beats TERC over the head, cites a letter from a math teacher in Detroit who reports that Detroit's public schools have jettisoned CMP (a widely used fuzzy math program for the middle grades) in favor of a more traditional program:

"The Detroit Public Schools have replaced CMP with normal textbooks from Holt-Reinhart-Winston. The first group of students to have CMP throughout all 3 middle school years (6-8) had horrible standardized test scores. Someone finally got wise. The new textbooks seem OK. I will, however, continue to teach students rather than a curriculum."
However, the last sentence is somewhat mysterious. What could this teacher be teaching the students if not a curriculum? The phrase harkens back to one of the progressive ed dicta: “teach the child, not the subject.”

How about teaching the child the subject?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Deep understanding

When learning operations with integers you could just memorize (rote learning?) that a negative number times a negative number is positive or you could go for deep understanding as presented by Dr.Frank Wang of Saxon fame.
This is a brief excerpt of a much longer explanation:

Using the field axioms, we can prove a variety of things that you likely take for granted such as

–(–a) = a

– (a + b) = – a + (– b)

and a x 0 = 0 x a = 0

Now, we finally get to the crux of our explanation (the same explanation as above). In a field, the distributive property must hold. That is, if a, b and c are real numbers, then

a x (b + c) = a x b + a x c

and

(b + c) x a = b x a + c x a

The distributive property ties together the different operations of addition and multiplication.

Now, we replace a, b and c with -1, 1 and -1 respectively.

That is,

(-1) x (1 + (-1)) = (-1) x (1) + (-1)x(-1)

On the left hand side we see that 1 + (-1) is equal to 0 since any number plus its additive identity is equal to 0. Any number multiplied by 0 is 0 (this can be proven from the axioms for a field). Therefore, replacing the lefthand side with 0, we get

0 = (-1) x (1) + (-1) x (-1)

Since any number times 1, the multiplicative identity, is itself, we can further simplify this equation to get:

0 = –1 + (–1) x (–1)

We now need to figure out what (–1) x (–1) is. Since a number added to its additive inverse is 0, (–1) x (–1) must equal the additive inverse of –1. This is simply 1 so

(–1) x (–1) = 1
Sometimes memorization comes in handy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Helpful acronym

A veteran teacher identifies patterns of how educational fads come and go:

1. They start out with an inital flurry of interest/activity, often based on the results of "recent studies" or surveys. We have to listen to the "experts" and keep track of the data they provide.
2. This is followed by a few people (usually someone in an "influential" position... not "just a teacher") in the district attending some sort of workshop/training to become an "expert" in this new approach.
3. This person often arranges to fly in some kind of "national guru" for an inspirational talk.
4. Interest spreads throughout the district thanks to a multitude of workshops/trainings on this great new approach.
5. Everyone signs up (not always willingly), takes the courses, and immediately starts using the "latest vocabulary" wherever they go.
6. Camraderie develops. Jargon abounds.
7. The new approach is tried in classrooms, with mixed results, but mostly bordering on "not so great."
8. There is reluctance to admit that this great new approach may not be all that it's cracked up to be.
9. Early adopters feel guilty and blame themselves ("I must not be implementing it properly," or "Maybe I don't have enough training.")
10. Interest wanes. Workshops become fewer and fewer. Jargon is used less and less.
11. Go to Step 1.
The site also has a collection of ed jargon under a section called Mechanisms to Advance New Understanding for Renewal in Education. As an acronym, this phrase spells MANURE.

Now even the kiddies are being taught ed jargon, as this Washington Post article shows.

Yeah, first we'll do SSR, then we'll do a constructed response!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Contraband textbooks

Homeschoolers suffered a setback when ebay banned textbooks for teachers and solution manuals from its site. Textbooks are joining a long list of prohibited items on ebay like illegal drugs, reports WND.

A new policy by Internet trading behemoth eBay that bans homeschool teachers' texts from its auctions is prompting a tirade of complaints from the company's faithful customers.
Surely, institutions shouldn't have a monopoly on acquiring these instructional materials.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ed pablum masquerading as visions

This writer decries a "crisis of ignorance" but I am afraid his prescriptions will lead to more ignorance.

I also find it hilarious that an artificial marker like the turn of a century is said to make the world "unrecognizable".

Anyone who has read Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat" or seen Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" knows that our times are radically different than they were even 10 years ago. Our children and the "yet to be born" are inheriting a world and way of living that is becoming unrecognizable. The awesome power and potential of the Internet and the new technology being created is transforming how we communicate and collaborate while at the same time we are on a collision course with destructive environmental issues the results of which are impossible to calculate.I'm reminded of Buckminster Fuller's words, "There is no environmental crisis, or food crisis, or energy crisis. There is a crisis of ignorance." As an educator, those words are disturbing. Why are we so ignorant? What is it about our approach to education and our way of living on this planet that has caused this crisis?
Apparently, the way to overcome ignorance is less emphasis on knowledge and more failed progressive ed practices.

Equally disturbing is our approach to education does not consider how the brain works and how people actually learn. Why do so many children lose their uniqueness and joy of learning? For many students, it's the extra-curricular activities - music, theater, sports - that excite and fully engage students. These activities bring out the best in young people and foster important skills - the ability to collaborate and commit to a high quality performance - to do their best. Students choose these activities and I'm convinced that if students had more choice in what they learned and classes were more project- and problem-based, more experiential and hands-on, students would develop the essential skills for the 21st century. In other words, the three Rs would be replaced by the three Cs - creative problem solving, collaboration and communication - integrating the basic skills in deeper, more relevant learning experiences. New models for schools are being created around the country. Hi-Tech High in San Diego and spin-offs of that school are being developed. The Met and Big Picture Schools developed in Providence are also being replicated. Thirty Project Based Learning Schools under the EdVisions network have opened around the country. The Great Maine Schools Project is working at "reinventing the American High School" - all of these attempts are being funded by the Gates Foundation. At present, however, most schools still follow an obsolete Industrial Age model. The NCLB legislation is emphasizing skills that are being learned through drill rather than developing those skills through relevant learning experiences that prepare young people for the 21st century.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Parents fight back

I came across this parent group site in Penfield. The parents are concerned about fuzzy math in their schools. This list of observations neatly encapsulates what's wrong with the fuzzy math plague:

Penfield parents have noticed several problems relative to the new math programs. Some of the most common problems and observations are noted below. Skip to the bottom of the list to see some of the more recent observations noted since parents have turned up the heat on the district:

Students are receiving high grades on their report cards, but they don't seem to exhibit appropriate math skills for their grade level.

Children are no longer being taught basic math facts. Students lack skills in division, multiplication, fractions etc...

Calculators are too widely used and kids are losing their ability to perform simple arithmetic without their calculators.

There is too much group work. Students no longer receive direct instruction. They may work for a long period of time on one question and never really learn the correct method to solve the problem.

There is no emphasis on finding the correct answer.

There are no reference materials. There is no textbook.

There is not enough practice so children do not retain the concepts.

Problems are very abstract and often frustrate the students, sometimes to tears.

Parents are concerned about the future of their children should they need to leave the district and relocate to a district using traditional math techniques. Their children will not know the math algorithms.

Many parents have placed their children in tutoring to compensate for the lack of instruction.

Several teachers have mentioned that they are unhappy with the programs, but they don't speak out for fear of retribution.

High school students who have experienced both math techniques have spoken out against the "reformed math".

Many universities have indicated that students from traditional math programs perform better in college math courses.

Children with learning disabilities, particularly those with reading/writing difficulties, are hurt by these programs.

Students are asked to solve problems using tools/algorithms that have not been taught.

The schools have taken away the ability for students to work independently. Parents are forced to teach math lessons at home.

Children no longer feel confident or successful. They hate math now.

There are big concerns about the way that standardized test scores are being interpreted by the school district administrators.

Complaints to teachers and counselors are not being addressed.

Core-Plus received a poor showing in the Michigan State University study by Hill and Parker.

The math materials don't match the NYS guidelines for the various grade level expectations.

High achievers are being held back.

Academic Intervention Services (AIS) are not effective.

The district has no plans in place to repair the damage done to students over the past few years.

They are experimenting with our kids again. This is another "Whole Language" fiasco, only now it's math.

There are inconsistencies in the implementation of the programs between schools and even within schools.

Students report that some science teachers are providing math instruction during/after science class due to missing math prerequisites.
I love this entry under more recent observations:

Traditional math worksheets coming home for homework just prior to standardized testing. Teaching to the test and cramming.
Looks like the fuzzies don't have full confidence in their crap programs. They want to have it both ways: Supplement with traditional math and attribute any success to their snake oil programs to keep the faith.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Social construct

Educationists in Australia are on a "social construction" kick. How many "multiple and/or conflicting interpretations" can there be for 2+2=4 or for the fact that an educationist would fall on his face if he jumped out of a window? Teachers are to be penalized for presenting factual knowledge:

TEACHERS should present knowledge as a "social construct" open to interpretation rather than undisputed facts, even in maths and the sciences, says a NSW guide to quality teaching.

The Quality Teaching framework, developed on behalf of the NSW Education Department, rewards teachers for presenting "problematic knowledge" in their lessons.

Under a coding system developed to assess teachers, lessons that present knowledge "only as fact and not open to question" score the lowest.

The highest score is given when "knowledge is seen as socially constructed, with multiple and/or conflicting interpretations presented and ... a judgment is made about the appropriateness of aninterpretation in a given context".

"Knowledge is treated as problematic when it involves an understanding of knowledge not as a fixed body of information but rather as being socially constructed, and hence subject to political, social and cultural influences and implications," the guide says. "Knowledge is not treated as problematic when it is presented only as fact, a body of truth to be acquired by students, or is treated as static and open to only one interpretation."

The guide specifically relates the idea of contested knowledge to the teaching of science, saying if it is difficult to see how a subject is problematic, look at its history.
Deconstruction is in full bloom.

Decreased attention

An excellent dissection of NCTM charlatanry.

The NCTM Standards have been developed by progressive "math educators", not by people with genuine knowledge of mathematics. For eighty years progressive educationists have rejected the idea of remembering any domain-specific knowledge. They say knowledge is changing too fast, and the facts of today will be obsolete tomorrow. Calculators and computers are the latest "proof" of this claim. The NCTM wields them as a double-edged sword, justifying the trashing of traditional math and offering the benefit of exciting "tools" for bypassing the difficulties of traditional "paper-and-pencil" math.

Progressive educationists believe important factual knowledge is already known intuitively or will be picked up naturally as a byproduct of real-world experiences. They claim that real-world experts rely on "higher-order skills" and "just-in-time" factual knowledge supplied by computers and reference materials. They say real-world experts never trust their own long-term memory.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Michigan tries "history"

Michigan produces history "standards" (called "content expectations") that sound more like a joke.

Indeed, the draft "expectations" say nothing about America before 1890, leaving the nation's foundation years, its crucial philosophical groundings and the Civil War to elementary and middle schools. In the post-1890 studies, no mention is to be found of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan. Same for Henry Ford, Rosa Parks, Andrew Carnegie, Douglas MacArthur and Earl Warren -- and Hitler, Stalin and Tojo. Similarly absent: the development of mass production and the rise of industrial unions, D-Day, defeat of fascist Germany and imperial Japan, the Korean War and the toppling of Soviet communism. In a flash of good sense, curriculum writers rejected the lead consultant's attempt to ban use of "America" and "American" as "ethnocentric," potentially offensive to the rest of the hemisphere.
Instead of history, there is an ideological agenda:

The standards do direct study of, for example, the environmental movement, the American Indian protests at Wounded Knee, Rosie the Riveter, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, acid rain, the automobile's contribution to global warming, consequences in the Persian Gulf of U.S. energy policy and alternatives to President Truman's use of the atomic bomb.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Mumbo-jumbo vs. quality education

As more and more schools adopt ed school mumbo-jumbo (authentic assessment, countless intelligences and learning styles, constructivism, etc.), it is reassuring that quality schools crop up now and then.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Teacher tests

In Why American Students Do Not Learn to Read Very Well: The Unintended Consequences of Title II and Teacher Testing Sandra Stotsky takes a look at teacher tests and finds that prospective teachers are not expected to have knowledge of research-based reading instruction:

This paper provides an analysis of the descriptions of the subject tests assessing reading instructional knowledge that prospective elementary teachers in this country take for licensure: those offered by Educational Testing Service, a variety of those provided by National Evaluation Systems, and the one offered by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. I examined these descriptions to determine whether the tests appear to address three major components of a research-based approach to reading pedagogy (instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary knowledge), the weights attached to knowledge of these three components, and the quality of the sample questions they provide.
I guess science is not needed if reading unfolds naturally, as whole language advocates believe. The trouble is that learning how to read is not natural like language acquisiton.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pod people

Over at edspresso a prospective teacher has discovered that the pod people have invaded math education:

Math education is in a shambles, starting from the so-called standards put out by the National Council of Mathematics (NCTM) in 1989 and revised in 2000. These standards were then copied by many states that thought they were great. State boards of education paid no mind to the shrieks of horror from mathematicians, simply not believing that the resulting standards took the math out of mathematics in the name of fun, and whose approach for eliminating the achievement gap eliminated the mastery of any math knowledge that matters. The well-intentioned but ill-conceived standards have actually widened the gaps between the rich and the poor by motivating those who can do so to hire tutors for their children, to enroll them in learning centers like Sylvan and Kumon, or to put them in private schools.
Fuzzy math was ostensibly invented to make math "accessible" to what's termed "minorities". But as the writer points out, taking math out of math only widens the achievement gap.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ed school "teacher"

Ever wondered what a teacher is? A school of education has the answer. Discovered by Chanman

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Helpful jargon

England is abuzz with something called "personalised education" as shown in this BBC account. It looks similar to what's known here as differentiated instruction. As is usually the case in edland, these innovations are couched in inpenetrable jargon. One can never be sure of what one is dealing with:

There is a very tricky question which is bothering many people involved in schools today, namely: "What is personalised education?"

The question is important because "personalisation" is the current buzzword in the Department for Education and in schools.

Last October, the Prime Minister said the government's school reforms would lead to "personalised lessons" for pupils. The then Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly (my, how fast they change!) characterised the reforms as being about "personalisation and choice".

So, everyone is talking about it. It will eventually affect every child in a school. All teachers will have to learn how to teach it. But what does it mean?

Ask professional educators and you might get an answer like this: "Personalised learning is about learner-managed and co-constructed learning -- the shift from dependency to independence and interdependency -- and invitational learning and assessment."

I took this from a website dedicated to personalised education. If you can make sense of it, you are a much better person than me.

It also talked about the "re-integration of learning, life and community", making use of "catalogue and natural versions of curriculum and assessment" and "de-coupling of age-stage progressions".

That clears it up.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Up is down

One of the panel members of Bush's new National Mathematics Advisory Panel enters another dimension:

A very short story by Vern Williams

One night I walked into the 4 3/8 dimension and actually believed the following:

We should write about math but never do math.
Correcting students' papers using red ink is a threat to children's self esteem and that red pens should be banned from all public schools.
Howard Gardner was right about his multiple intelligence theory (I think that he claims about nine at the moment) and that schools should value bodily-kinesthetic ability and the intelligence of self as much as mathematical and linguistic ability.
The war on intellectual excellence is a great thing. It will make us all equal.
Teachers Unions are actually concerned about students.
Advanced courses and gifted programs should be banned because they are elitist and unfair. Since everyone is gifted in their own way (see Howard Gardner), why have special gifted programs?
There are no bored students in US public schools.
We can teach thinking even when there is no content to think about.
We should treat members of politically protected minority groups as victims.
We should never view our students as individuals but as members of racial and ethnic groups.
We should buy into the latest educational fad even if it's based on political correctness and has nothing to do with learning or common sense.
There is no money wasted on administration, specialists, and useless programs. In fact, we should have more of each.
I should join the NCTM.
I should join the NEA.
I should feel guilty because I teach smart kids.
I should feel really guilty because I enjoy teaching smart kids.

I finally woke up in a cold sweat from this nightmare and asked myself does anyone actually believe those things?
The answer is a resounding yes. Unfortunately the people who believe them are running our school systems and colleges of education.

I do my very best to shield my students from the effects of educational fads, political correctness and anti-intellectualism that we experience every day in public schools.

Small schools malaise

Somehow I have the feeling that academics isn't high up on the agenda of this new small school, despite its lip service. This is a pattern with a lot of these new small schools. Their motto should be: Anything but academics.

The Green School is a New Century High School opening in September 2006 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.

Our mission is to foster community values in sustainability; specifically self, relationships, community and society, while preparing students for Regents exams, college and careers.

Our School themes: Sustainability • Real-World Learning • Student Voice • Careers that Make a Difference

Strong applicants for a teaching position will demonstrate the following abilities to: • Link subject area curricula to the school’s themes and incorporate discussion of current events, hands-on experiences in the community, and meaningful connection to students’ interests and lives. • Create project-based curricula and use performance-based assessment. • Use inquiry-based approach to teach interdisciplinary classes. • Teach an advisory class that includes community building, identity development, reflective writing, and interest exploration. • Work collaboratively with other teachers to design curricula and assessments, and to support each other in improving teaching practices. • Involve students in decision making about topics of classes and electives, and support students in independent projects. • Work to develop internship opportunities for students around the theme of sustainability. • Design and teach curricula to heterogeneous classes including English language learners, special needs students, and accelerated students, together. • Will participate in developing and implementing new ideas into the school or “wearing more than one hat” (this is key in small schools). • Help plan and participate in field trips of various duration. • Develop curricula that uses the resources of NYC and gets students to apply their learning in real-world settings.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Febrile in Seattle

The Seattle Public Schools system has adopted a set of definitions dripping with far-left wackiness that purport to identify various forms of "racism". "Racism" itself (without a modifying adjective) apparently cannot be perpetrated by groups which in the view of the Seattle Public Schools have "relatively little social power," identified as "Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians." This would seem to exempt a sizable chunk of the population (known in the PC vernacular as "people of color") from being capable of committing this hideous crime. One would have thought that "racism" (without the adjectives) is a state of mind. Apparently it is an activity:
Racism:
The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.
The next entry is on "individual racism." Just when I thought that individuals of all colorations are capable of "racism" after all, it turns out that, besides "telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet," the miscreant must believe in the "inherent superiority of whites." So, unless members of "targeted racial groups" perversely believe in such superiority, they are off the hook once again:

Individual Racism:
The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can occur at both an unconscious and conscious level, and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites.
But perhaps matters are even more weirdly complex than that. Perhaps members of "targeted racial groups" cannot be individuals at all, for we learn under "cultural racism" that the emphasis on "individualism" is also "racist". Since "targeted racial groups" cannot be "racist," they thus cannot hold "racist" beliefs such as a belief in the individual. Following this dizzying Seattle Public Schools logic, "targeted racial groups" might not exist as individuals at all:

Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
Another revelation is that planning ahead (what these educationists call "having a future time orientation") is apparently also "racist". Now, believing that planning ahead is a function of pigmentation strikes me as truly racist. But these educationists are probably too dim-witted to realize this.

It should be noted that these dogmas have been far-left fare for a long time. They are not recent creations of Seattle schools. The inspiration listed as a source is Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 1197 eds. Adams, Bell & Griffin. Still, it is astonishing that a tax-financed, public entity would adopt a lunatic fringe creed as its guiding policy. An incidental benefit is that it becomes a little clearer what the proponents of "social justice" have in mind.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nutty judge

The Los Angeles Times reports that a California judge thinks it is unfair to ask high school graduates to know some 8th grade math and ninth- and 10th-grade English since some went to lousy schools:

A California judge struck down the state's controversial high school exit exam Friday, potentially clearing the way for thousands of seniors who have failed the test to graduate with their class next month.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman issued a preliminary injunction against the mandatory testing requirement, ruling it places an unfair burden on poor and minority students who attend low-performing schools.
Even answering little more than half the questions on the test is an onerous requirement:

This year's 12th-graders were the first class to face the testing requirement, which includes a section of eighth-grade math and another of ninth- and 10th-grade English. Students are required to answer little more than half of the questions correctly and can take the test multiple times. Students with learning disabilities were exempted from the test.
The judge's insistence on giving ignorant students a diploma confuses symbolism and substance. What good is a diploma if it does not stand for something? And how much are students helped if educational failure is shoved under the rug?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Political litmus test for math teacher

A Chicago public school is seeking a math teacher who needs to have a "social justice background" (whatever that is) of all things to qualify. Political indoctrination at taxpayer expense.

Cluster/Area 04/25
School Name/Address Greater Lawndale / Little Village School for Social Justice
3021 S. Kostner
Chicago, IL 60623 (or GSR #37)
Grade or Subject Mathematics
Certificate Requirements (Type 09) 6-12 w/Mathematics Endorsement

Other Information: Progressive educators with social justice background. Must be willing to create alternative assessments and work collaboratively.
School uses IMP curriculum.

UPDATE: See Darren's analysis of social justice math in the Comment section.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Farther shores

In Silly Season for the School Scholars, Frederick Hess and Laura LoGerfo report on the doings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Will this organization drown in its own irrelevance?

Here is a sampling:

One scholar of multiculturalism showed how to do away with injustice and racism, while promoting compassion and wisdom, in “Resisting Resistance: Using Eco-Justice and Eco-Racism to Awaken Mindfulness, Compassion, and Wisdom in Preservice Teachers.”

Other work promised to promote proper multicultural teacher attitudes: as with “Teaching White Preservice Teachers: Pedagogical Responses to Color-Blind Ideology” and “Overcoming Odds: Preparing Bilingual Paraeducators to Teach for Social Justice.” Breakthrough research on this front included “Discovering Collage as a Method in Researching Multicultural Lives” and “Artistic Code-Switching in a Collaged Book on Border Identity and Spanglish.”

Among the panels tackling the pressing questions of “queer studies” (formerly “gay and lesbian studies”) were “Queering Schooling and (Un)Doing the Public Good: Rubbing Against the Grain for Schooling Sexualities,” “The Silence at School: An Ethnodrama for Educators About the School Experiences of Gay Boys,” and “Working Against Heterosexism and Homophobia Through Teacher Inquiry.” Unfortunately, this work may have felt a bit conventional to those researchers fortunate enough to catch the 2004 analysis of ableist oppression in homoerotic magazines: “Unzipping the Monster Dick: Deconstructing Ableist Representations in Two Homoerotic Magazines.”

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Reading Moloch

The NYT reports how, driven by NCLB, math and reading is driving out other subjects like science and history.

SACRAMENTO — Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

I find it curious that educationists regard "reading" and learning science and history as being mutually exclusive. "Reading" is not some abstract, isolated skill but a practical tool that can be applied to many fields. Couldn't you learn a lot of history and science by reading? Whatever happened to reading across the curriculum?

In The Knowledge Deficit , E.D. Hirsch argues that reading instruction should be less concerned with "strategies" and should focus more on domain knowledge:

From Publishers Weekly
The notion of learning how to learn is a shibboleth in America's schools, but it distorts reading instruction, contends this provocative manifesto. Education theorist Hirsch decries a dominant "Romantic" pedagogy that disparages factual knowledge and emphasizes reading comprehension "strategies"—summarizing, identifying themes, drawing inferences—that children can deploy on any text. Such formal skills, he argues, are easily acquired; what kids really need is a broad background knowledge of history, science and culture to help them assimilate new vocabulary and understand more advanced readings. "Process-oriented" methods that apply reading comprehension drills to "vapid" texts waste time and slow kids' progress, Hirsch contends, and should be replaced with a more traditional, "knowledge-oriented" academic approach with a rich factual content. Hirsch repeats the call for a standard curriculum based on a canon of general knowledge (he touts his own core knowledge sequence as a model) made in his bestselling Cultural Literacy. That work drew fire from multiculturalists who accused Hirsch of promoting dead-white-male worship, but here he grounds his case in the latest cognitive-science research (with a healthy dose of common sense). Fluently written and accessible to teachers and parents alike, the book presents a challenge to reigning educational orthodoxies. (Apr. 24)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Humor

Teacher Arrested

At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, the attorney general said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

"Al-gebra is a fearsome cult," a Justice Department spokesman said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.

As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, "there are 3 sides to every triangle."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Small is radical left

The promise of the small-schools movement was to create manageable, cozy entities as an alternative to the mammoth high-school jungles. Now it turns out that small schools are a vehicle for the implementation of a radical left agenda.

See, for example, this mission statement from a new small school being set up in Chicago that goes by the inspiring name of UPLIFT:

MISSION: Our mission is to continue to adapt and align our curriculum so that it is relevant, student-centered and adheres to the highest national standards. We will transform service delivery so that the theme of social justice is embedded in all subject areas.
Perhaps none of this is surprising since the father of the movement is none other than an SDS (Weathermen) fugitive turned Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Examples of other small schools turned into radical indoctrination centers abound as chronicled by Sol Stern.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Kozol made him do it

Sol Stern discusses how a quasi-official pedagogy permeating pre-collegiate education promotes political indoctrination:

At least the higher education professoriate denies that it favors using the classroom as a political bully pulpit. By contrast, the K-12 public school establishment has adopted a quasi-official pedagogy that encourages the classroom teacher to shape students’ beliefs on controversial issues like race, gender, sexual preference, and American foreign policy.

The documentation on this is so extensive that Jay Bennish might have a pretty good Nurenberg defense: “my union and my professional teacher association made me do it.”

For example, the National Education Association, the larger of the two national teacher unions, supports “the movement toward self-determination by American Indians/Alaska natives” and believes these designated victim groups should control their own education. It believes that all schools should designate separate months to celebrate Black History, Hispanic Heritage, Native American Indian Heritage, Asian/Pacific Heritage, Women’s History, Lesbian and Gay History. This nearly takes up the entire school calendar, leaving scant time for American history – or Geography, the subject that Mr. Bennish was supposed to be teaching when he went off on Bush and Bush’s Amerikkka.

After 9/11, the NEA posted guidelines on how teachers should discuss with their students the terrorist attack on our homeland. It was filled with multicultural psychobabble and stressed the need for children to be tolerant and to respect all cultures – while hardly saying a word about the fact that the country was at war with a vicious enemy out to destroy our tolerant society. The document came so close to apologizing for the 9/11 attack that a public outcry ensued, and the union was forced to remove the teacher guidelines from its website.

NEA-affiliated teacher organizations, such as the National Council of the Social Studies and the National Council of Teachers of English, carry on the political struggle by training teachers to focus inordinate attention in the classroom on issues of “diversity.” The NCSS believes that academic history – which some of its leaders have disparaged as "pastology" – is elitist and irrelevant. The organization has successfully lobbied state education departments to require little or no history. Instead, it has filled the schools with a hodgepodge of "global studies," "cultural studies," and "peace studies" that present all cultures and civilizations as equal in value.

If NCSS had its way, American education’s entire system would reflect a race- and gender-centered pedagogy. The organization's official policy paper, "Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education," is one of the scariest documents in American education today, going far beyond the demand that social studies curricula reflect the grievances of a rainbow coalition of ethnic and racial groups. In the tone of a commissar's lecture at a political reeducation camp, the NCSS exhorts teachers, administrators, and other school employees to think and act multiculturally during every moment of the school day, lest they become accomplices of American culture's invisible but omnipresent racism. Teachers are instructed to scrutinize every aspect of the school environment – from classroom teaching styles and the pictures on the walls to the foods served in the lunchroom and the songs sung in the school assemblies – to be sure they reflect "multicultural literacy."

At the heart of the NCSS paper lies a fundamentally racist assumption: "[T]he instructional strategies and learning styles most often favored in the nation's schools," the guidelines declare, "are inconsistent with the cognitive styles, cultural orientations, and cultural characteristics of some groups of students of color." These students flourish under "cooperative teaching techniques" rather than the "competitive learning activities" that work for white kids.

We are left with this Orwellian conclusion by the Social Studies group: "Schools should recognize that they cannot treat all students alike or they run the risk of denying equal educational opportunity to all persons."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Spelling helps reading

Among the countless educationist lunacies is the belittling of correct spelling. This
article from American Educator shows that correct spelling supports reading.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A different take on "constructivism"

A reader of this site called Allison left a comment on my piece on arrested development that I found fascinaning. She describes how Husserl of phenomenology fame views constructivism and authentic learning. I have to admit, though, that I had hitherto been unaware that educationists have ever heard of Husserl, let alone have sufficient knowledge of phenomenology to distort it to absurd lengths:

How sad that the constructivists in education misused the ideas from such wonderful philosophers as Husserl and Wittgenstein.

Husserl, in particular, was terrified that within a generation, all modern knowledge could be lost. From his perspective, we were standing on such a tower of shoulders of giants that we could fall due to some calamity (war, plague, etc.) and we couldn't even reconstruct the society we'd had before. So he set out to find the "Authentic description" for things--for concepts, ideas, words, traits, algorithms, experiences. He was trying to write down a body of knowledge as best as possible so that we wouldn't have to start over with a blank slate.

This idea of his led him to be one of the founders of phenomenology, a philosophy much maligned for many unfair reasons. Between Husserl and Heidegger, phenomenology came up with any explanation for learning called the Hermeneutic circle, which explains that constructivism is a necessary component for authentic learning.

But in the circle, all of the rote learning is a REQUIREMENT before the constructivist reaching BECOMES authentic.

Here's an example: At first, you don't know things like your times tables. You don't know 6 times 7 off the top of your head. You must inauthentically calculate it, say by adding 6 7s. You are unsure of your answer, maybe. (And you have yet to REALLY be convinced that adding 7 6s produces the same answer.) You have doubt still. Over time, though, you learn your times tables by rote (still inauthentically at first) because you are forced to. So now when asked, 6 times 7 is 42 AND 7 time s 6 is 42. You don't think about why; it's just the rule.

Eventually, you learn the tables so well that they become known to you, and you have no doubt that 6 times 7 is 42.

Now, you start working on another problem: 2 times 21. Now, this isn't in your times table. You have doubt; you are forced to try and discover something you DO know that helps you solve the problem. In doing so, you may learn something fascinating: that 2 times 21 is 2 times 3 times 7. This may be one of the first times that you've even NOTICED factors before. You finally, unsurely at first, guess that maybe 21 times 2 is 6 times 7, because 2 times 3 is 6.

But now, you're beginning to guess something FASCINATING: that factors are associative! This is still unsteady to you, so you fall back on the KNOWN, the rote: and you start examining other multiples: 3 times 14, for example. lo and behold, this is 3 times 2 times 7!

This is an example of the hermeneutic circle at work: every time you learn something inauthentically, it becomes the basis for a future authentic learning. All learning is predicated on prior learning--and ironically, predicated on "learning" in such a way that you even FORGOT that it was strange that you knew that fact, and yet, this time around, that fact you were convince of, leads you to an A-Ha! you never saw before.

And over time, you know these truths so deeply that you KNOW all numbers have prime factorizations; then at some later layer, you understand the beauty of diophantine equations because of what you've "always known" about prime factorizations, etc.

So the original constructivists, who were trying to get at authentic learning, which always involves moving into the unknown, understood that you must ALWAYS predicate that unknown on the known. (In fact, ask a phenomenologist what the bottom layer of that predication is, and he'll probably tell you something fascinating: the top!)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Misguided pretentiousness and false rigor

The Chicago Public Schools are pushing something called the Chicago Math & Science Initiative

I checked out what is supposed to be taught in sixth grade and found that one quarter is devoted to this:

In Investigating Climate and Weather students begin by conducting a series of inquiries to connect their own experience of climate and weather to the planetary systems that govern weather events and climate change. Next, they investigate the evidence and associated scientific debate surrounding climate change. From their evaluations of this evidence, students predict climate and weather changes for the area in which they live.
I can't help it but somehow I find the idea that sixth grade pupils in Chicago schools will conduct a "series of inquiries to connect their own experience of climate and weather to the planetary systems that govern weather events and climate change" utterly laughable. Most of these kids can't even spell atmosphere and wouldn't know troposphere from ionosphere. Try throwing "adiabatic" at them (a reversible thermodynamic process executed at constant entropy and occurring without gain or loss of heat). Next they will "investigate the evidence and associated scientific debate surrounding climate change." For sure!

Weather systems and factors contributing to climate are some of the most complex things imaginable requiring an advanced and sophisticated store of knowledge. The top brains in science can't even come up with computer models that can fully account for this complexity. But Chicago pupils who lack even the rudiments of science will somehow pore over scientific papers and make predictions. This is delusional to the point of being comical!

What these students need is a systematic, coherent and age-appropriate grounding in major topics of science (physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, etc.) with increasing sophistication as they advance through the grades.

Instead of realistic, specific content goals for each grade, the Illinois state board presents vague and highly pretentious "descriptors" focused entirely on process and "inquiry". These "descriptors" are essentially the same for babes and high-school seniors and everything in between. What "content" knowledge requirements exist are rather vague, skimpy and applied to broad grade ranges.

The following is an excerpt from the Illinois Learning Standards: Classroom Assessments and Performance Descriptors:

Here is a portion of the "descriptors" for FIRST AND SECOND GRADE!!!

Descriptors
11A - Students who meet the standard know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of scientific inquiry.
1. Describe an observed science concept using appropriate senses, making applicable estimations and measurements, predicting steps or sequences, describing changes in terms of starting and ending conditions using words, diagrams or graphs.
2. Begin guided inquiry asking questions using prior knowledge and observations, inferring from observations to generate new questions, or developing strategies to investigate questions.
3. Conduct guided inquiry following appropriate procedural steps and safety precautions as directed by teacher.
4. Collect data for guided inquiry identifying and using instruments for gathering data, making estimates and measurements, recording observations, or reading data from data-collection instruments.
5. Record and store data assembling pictures to illustrate data, or organizing data on charts and pictographs, tables, journals or computers.
6. Analyze and display results recognizing and describing patterns, noting similarities and differences in patterns, or predicting trends.
7. Communicate individual and group results identifying similar data from others, generalizing data, drawing simple conclusions, or suggesting more questions to consider.
11B - Students who meet the standard know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of technological design.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Revised whole language golf instruction

The creators of a golf instruction program that applies modern educational theories have been forced to update their program, reports Kerry Hempenstall in Balanced golf instruction.

Here are some elements of the revised program:

We are also conscious of the developing golfer's learning style. We advise the visual learners to focus their learning transactions on watching the golf on TV (with the sound off) at every opportunity. The auditory learners actually go to golf courses, but wear blindfolds - better to focus attention on the sound of the ball being struck. They also make use of brain-based golf education employing a looped audiotape of a ball being struck. When played during sleep, this procedure repatterns the golfing region of the brain for these fortunate students. The kinaesthetic learners must actually swing the club regularly, but their oneness with the game is dramatically enhanced when they cannot see the ball. The feel is the thing. Because our teachers are so skilled they are also able to use multiple methods, tailor-made to parallel each of the multiple golf intelligences our students may display.
You can read about the original WL golf instruction program here.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

MI disorder

A teacher in Denver writing in the NYT education forum illustrates the absurd lengths to which Gardner's so-called multiple intelligences are taken by educationists:

While you are on this one, my American History class is heterogeneous.

We know that there are seven separate and distinct learning modalities.

Kindly tell us how you will differentiate your teaching so that the tactile, auditory, visual, and kinetic [sic] learners will come away with the same knowledge as the readers and writers.
I would like to see how this teacher would teach history in the purely tactile and kinesthetic mode. At some point there has to be exposure to words, either by reading or listening. It's also dubious that people can be pigeonholed into one mode to the exclusion of other modes.

I also find it ironic that on the one hand educationists rail against expository instruction and on the other hand they show concern for "auditory" learners.

See here for a link to Willingham's debunking of modality theory. In Willingham's priceless observation, students learn best when content is presented in the subject's best modality.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Superficial ed reporting

Fuzzy math enthusiasts like to justify their enthusiasm by invariably pointing to supposedly towering test scores attributed to fuzzy math. This self-congratulation then gets reported uncritically in the media. See, for example, Everyday Math multiplies in schools:

But administrators at Clayton and Edwardsville stand by the program.

"Look at the scoreboard," Keenoy said, referring to Clayton's high test scores.

Edwardsville has seen its math scores jump since it started the program in 2001 by up to 20 percent in a grade level, some of the highest overall in the area. And the number of students taking higher math classes in high school has nearly tripled, said Lynda Andre, assistant superintendent for instruction.

What education reporters fail to do is ask a series of critical questions and do some investigating. For example, reporters could ask: What math questions are on these tests? Are these tests possibly geared to fuzzy math? Is there math instruction outside of fuzzy math, e.g. from parents or tutors?

The article does point out that there is supplementary math instruction.

Both districts have addressed some of the perceived shortfalls by requiring teachers to supplement the program with timed tests and exercises on basic math facts.
Could that and other unreported factors like parent involvement and tutoring contribute to the supposedly high tests scores attributed to fuzzy math?