Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Do teachers need to know math?

Joanne Jacobs writes that teachers in Virginia will be relieved of the onerous math component in Praxis I (unless they teach math in high school, I guess). She links to sample test prep questions for Praxis I. These are the type of questions that constitute an insurmountable hurdle for some teachers. If they are elementary teachers, wouldn't they still need to know some math?

While most questions look very easy, this one could be a bit of a challenge:

If Sam can do a job in 4 days that Lisa can do in 6 days and Tom can do in 2 days, how long would the job take if Sam, Lisa, and Tom worked together to complete it?
I'll post the procedure in an update. (Not that most readers need it).

Monday, June 20, 2005

No geography in NAEP

While looking for something else, I came across this blog entry on NAEP's "geography" questions. The blog is called CalPundit written by Kevin Drum, but unfortunately it appears that this blog is now defunct.

I guess you can't really test something that isn't taught in the "social studies" muddle. What a disgrace.

Here is that entry, minus useful links. (Go to the original for the links).

GEOGRAPHY IS DESTINY....Joanne Jacobs blogs today about geography education:

American students rarely study geography as a distinct subject, and I'm not sure they study it at all. Geography is part of the great social studies muddle, but it's in disfavor: Too many facts. That's why homeschooled kids dominate the Geography Bee.

I think that's putting it kindly. A couple of months ago I was trying to find the results of one of those international tests of high school students — you know, the ones that generate annual horror stories about how American kids rank just behind Swaziland in useful knowledge — and I ended up skimming through the NAEP geography test. It was edifying.

First of all, here are the three categories of questions on the test:

· Space and Place
· Environment and Society
· Spatial Dynamics and Connections (my favorite)

And the questions? There are some questions that you would normally think of as geography questions (identify Lake Superior, what is the southernmost country, etc.), but they are few and far between. Instead, most of them are like this:

· Read the passage above. What does Chief Seattle believe about owning land? Many other people in the United States hold views on owning land different from those of Chief Seattle.

What are these views?

· Environmental issues are viewed differently by people in different circumstances. Explain how the artist makes this point in the cartoon.
· Many children all over the world know what rock-and-roll music is. What has made this possible?
· What contributes to the greenhouse effect?
· What is an important reason that skyscrapers were built in American cities?
· What is one argument in favor of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes? What is one argument against developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes?

I can't figure out even a tenuous connection between that last question and the study of geography.

I'm aware that it's all too easy to mock efforts to make education more interesting and stimulating by de-emphasizing rote facts. What's more, I don't believe that international comparisons have as much value as some people seem to think. After all, low scores or not we somehow keep churning out the youngsters who start up the companies and make the discoveries that the rest of the world depends on.

Still, in a country where one-third of fourth graders can't find their own state on a map of the United States, some back-to-basics is probably in order. After all, if we're going to spend all of our time hating France, shouldn't our kids at least know where France is?

Social justice math

It turns out that those who thought that math was a universal language equally valid in various corners of the world are wrong. Far-left ideologues calling themselves "critical theorists" are pushing hard to turn math instruction into another form of crude political indoctrination.

Many thanks to the inimitable and ever-alert Prof. Plum for calling attention to this renewed assault on a discipline one would have thought was immune to politicization.

Here is a brief excerpt from Diane Ravitch on this trend cited by Prof. Plum:

Those were the days of innocent dumbing-down. Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves “critical theorists.” They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice. Social justice math relies on political and cultural relevance to guide math instruction. One of its precepts is “ethnomathematics,” that is, the belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective, traditional mathematics — the mathematics taught in universities around the world — is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors. The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans, and other “non-mainstream” cultures.

Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers,” shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: “Sweatshop Accounting,” with units on poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is “Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood.” Others include “The Transnational Capital Auction,” “Multicultural Math,” and “Home Buying While Brown or Black.” Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that “teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible.” Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students’ race, gender, ethnicity, and community.

This fusion of political correctness and relevance may be the next big thing to rock mathematics education, appealing as it does to political activists and to ethnic chauvinists.
Prof. Plum also cites an actual syllabus on Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice taught by one Blidi Stemn at Northeastern University, Boston Campus:

Course Description
This introductory course explores principles of social justice in education as a lens in rethinking school mathematics. The course will provide participants with a) an opportunity to expand their knowledge and awareness of issues of social justice in the context of mathematics education; b) an opportunity to develop a pedagogical model for teaching for social change; c) a process to critically examine the content of school mathematics curriculum and instructional practices from the perspective of social justice; d) an opportunity to contemplate on the role of the teacher as an agent of change and “transformative intellectual”. Throughout the course we will emphasize the relationship between theory and practice in an attempt to understand some of the complexities and challenges in addressing issues of social justice in mathematics teaching and learning.

Sapient Educator has more on social justice math in Multicultural Math? Ethnomathematics? Socially Just Math? No Kidding!

Sapient Educator has dug up the apparent originator of the term Ethnomathematics, a Brazilian called Ubiratan D'Ambrosio. D'Ambrosio sounds like a buddy of Paulo Freire, judging by the grandiose claims made for this form of math. World peace, no less:

Mathematics is absolutely integrated with Western Civilization, which conquered and dominated the entire world. The only possibility of building up a planetary civilization restoring the dignity of the losers and, together, winners and losers moving into the new. [Ethnomathematics, then, is] a step towards peace.
A little bit murky. Something must be lost in translation somewhere.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Going portfolio

The anti-testing crowd is at it again.

New York's legislature wants to allow schools to evade state tests in favor of subjective and nebulous "portfolio assessments." The NYT, to its credit, editorializes against the plan.

New York moved to the forefront of the national standards movement in education during the 1990's when the State Board of Regents raised standards and required rigorous new tests for public school students. The policy is beginning to yield impressive results, especially in inner-city areas. But a bill in the State Legislature could strangle reforms by allowing some schools to evade rigorous state tests in favor of subjective evaluations that would make it impossible to judge student progress.

The bill, which has passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly, would extend a temporary waiver that has allowed some schools to use so-called portfolio assessments - in which students are graded and evaluated based on papers, projects, book reports and other work performed over the course of the year. The bill would also require the State Department of Education to develop new portfolio systems that could be used by schools all over the state that wished to evade rigorous testing.

Were these tests really that rigorous?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Guilty of teaching

Ron Isaac, writing in, tells of strange happenings in NYC schools where the B&K regime is strictly enforcing "progressive" education. Teachers get reprimanded for teaching punctuation, spelling is not in the curriculum, dictionaries fly into the garbage and longtime, experienced teachers get unsatisfactory ratings.

At a public junior high school in District 26, which has consistently scored within the top 5% of New York City schools, a teacher was lately formally reprimanded because she taught punctuation. A letter was placed in her personnel file memorializing her mistake. Her error was not that she didn’t go about teaching it correctly but that she covered the topic at all.

At that same school another teacher was lately scolded because she told her class that spelling counts. The supervisor was upheld in her ruling that because spelling is not in the curriculum, it has no place in the classroom among the criteria for evaluation, called “rubrics,” as posted by mandate in every classroom.

Multiply this sort of nonsense by hundreds of thousands of pieces of anecdotal evidence from fourteen hundred schools daily and the public may begin to appreciate the bleakness of the educational landscape.

At a similar school in neighboring District 25, which has had since the 1970s an unbroken rank within the highest-performing five of the thirty-two school districts, a teacher asked his “intellectually gifted” ninth grade students what they knew about Stalin, Darwin, Freud, Churchill, Marx, and Einstein. A few students knew that Einstein had something to do with science. Not a single student had ever heard the name of any of the others. Again, let the public extrapolate and despair.
Knowledge is out.

The reading of novels is banned in some middle schools in prestigious Region 3, which is one of the less oppressive environments generally. No child will hear an authorized mention of Dickens, Hemingway, or Joyce while on DOE property. Throughout New York, elementary schools are tossing brand-new dictionaries out with the trash for garbage collectors or scavengers. Dictionaries are associated with the tyranny of tradition.

Asking students to memorize multiplication tables, find nations on a globe, or identify New York’s tunnels and bridges and the places they connect, have all been treated as serious offenses by school administrators executing the new cult of “progressivism.” Teachers have been drawn up on charges for extending a dramatic recitation one minute beyond the mandated six- hundred second daily “Read Aloud.” All of these invidious vignettes combined are like one grain of sand relative to all the sand of the world’s collective beaches.

In record numbers teachers are being rated “unsatisfactory” on their annual performance review. Often this has career-threatening implications. Many of the victims have thirty years of continuous unblemished service. During these decades they were incessantly observed and not a fault uncovered. The sky fell in on them only because they resisted the Stalinist “progressivism” of Chancellor Klein and his axis.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Slowly and gently unfolding flower

People pay big bucks to send kids to private schools like Waldorf that takes its name from a cigarette factory.

It's a dubious achievement to outdo even public schools on academic underachievement.

The timetable for academic achievement is slower. In the early grades, children lag behind their public-school counterparts in reading and math.
I don't understand this letter and number phobia. Kids can be playful and happy and still learn about letters and numbers.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Babe in the woods

Number 2 Pencil has a wonderful dissection of a letter that purports to be from a sixth grader but whose extraordinary fluency in educationist lingo gives rise to skepticism.

The putative babe doesn't like tests. She prefers "authentic" assessments and portfolios. Tests make her nervous and besides they don't reveal "the most important traits of a student," which are moral development, happiness, compassion and enjoyment of learning. I would have thought that "enjoyment of learning" would somehow translate into academic achievement and show itself on tests. But I am wrong.

Kimberly comments on this false dichotomy:

Note: The author here claims that the most important traits of a student are not academic achievement. Instead, that is outranked by enjoyment of learning, and happiness. Pop quiz: Who do you think will be happier as an adult, in the real word - the student who learned to be "happy" in school, or the student who developed a solid foundation in reading, math, science, etc?

For that matter, why is the author assuming these are mutually exclusive? Wouldn't it be fun to produce research showing that the students who learn the most in school and do the best on standardized tests are also the ones who are happiest and have the most love of learning? I'm not saying I know that's so; I'm saying it would be fun to poke at the anti-testing folks with those kinds of correlational results.
Read the whole thing.

Hearing voices selectively

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education, writes that minorities overwhelmingly support standardized testing. This in spite of perpetual educationist railing against such tests.

Likewise, African-Americans favor high-stakes tests by large margins. To be sure, activist groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have criticized NCLB and state graduation exams. But the black rank and file tell another story.

According to a 1998 survey by Public Agenda, nearly 8 of 10 African-American parents want schools to test children and publicize black-white achievement differences, just as NCLB requires.Only 28 percent say that standardized tests are "culturally biased" against black children, as critics often maintain. Many of these critics work at schools of education, where the standardized test serves as a symbol of everything that's wrong with American teaching.

According to the Ed-School Gospel, as I call it, schools should reflect student interests, not the sterile demands of "the curriculum"; they should employ a wide variety of classroom materials, not just the district-approved textbook; they should promote group learning and cooperation; and they should evaluate each student based on her or his own progress, not on district or statewide norms.

In every way, the argument goes, standardized testing harms these goals. It ignores the interests of the individual student; it promotes needless competition and anxiety; it turns learning into a lock-step exercise, inhibiting exploration and imagination; and it measures students against an arbitrary standard, ignoring their idiosyncratic abilities and attributes.
The great thinker himself -- an ardent advocate of democracy -- lost confidence in the people's ability to know what is good for them.

Unfortunately, we also have a rich tradition of ignoring popular sentiment. Even John Dewey, the greatest tribune of modern American democracy and education, questioned whether citizens should influence school policy. "Are the schools doing what the people want them to do?" he asked in 1901.

"The schools are not doing, and cannot do," he continued, "what the people want until there is more unity, more definiteness, in the community's consciousness of its own needs; but it is the business of the school to forward this conception."

In other words, educators should tell the people what they really need. That's fine, so long as we listen to them as well.
Educationists hear voices -- selectively.

Ed-school professors love to talk about "hearing the voices" of blacks and Hispanics, who are too often excluded from America's educational dialogues. But when minorities express an opinion that we don't like, we turn a deaf ear. That's a lousy model for education, and an even worse one for democracy.
Hat tip: Chris Correa.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Another district goes fuzzy

The constructivist-friendly organization, the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education (ENC) reports that another school district happily went fuzzy:

From the Education Headlines: Oregon District Adopts NSF Math Programs for All Grades

Four math programs developed with research grants from the National Science Foundation have been called "new-new math," "fuzzy math" or "cognitive child abuse" by those who want to stay with traditional curriculums. In spite of this, the Salem-Keizer School District in Salem, Oregon, is moving toward adopting all four for grades K-12. Quoted in an article in the Statesman Journal (School District Is Testing New Way to Teach Math, May 28), curriculum director John Weeks points out that the district spent months researching national studies and talking with math leaders in the state before deciding on all four programs. The four are: Bridges in Mathematics (K-2); Investigations in Number, Data and Space, (3-5); Connected Mathematics (middle school); and College Preparatory Mathematics (high school). Although all four have been named exemplary programs by the U.S. Department of Education, their use has split some communities and prompted parent revolts. There even is a web site, called Mathematically Correct, devoted to fighting adoption of the programs. The bottom line, according to Salem-Keizer administrators and teachers, is the new curriculums are working by raising math scores in other Oregon and Washington schools.

I wonder what kind of tests they are giving that allegedly show higher math scores? Could it be fuzzy test?

Elsewhere on this site I read that teachers and the gifted demand fuzzy math.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Tough Singapore math questions

I have been reading the testimony of John Hoven On Behalf of The Center for Education Reform on the Draft 2004 Mathematics Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

In his testimony, Mr. Hoven compares the type of questions Singapore students are asked to the toughest NAEP questions which turn out to be fluff in comparison. Not only that, the much tougher Singapore questions are asked in much lower grades.

Mr. Hoven's testimony contains numerous examples from Singapore's tests. It's hard to imagine something like this happening here.

Here are a few examples:

Singapore students learn the concept of percentages in 5th grade, and they work much harder problems without a calculator – like these:

1 3 ) A blouse and a skirt were sold at a discount of 25% if they were bought together. If bought separately, the blouse would cost $25 and the skirt would cost 30% more than the blouse. How much would the blouse and skirt cost after the discount if they were bought together? Give your answer to the nearest cent.

1 4 ) A bank pays interest at a rate of 4% every year. If Christine has $5000 in the bank, how much money will she have altogether after 2 years?

1 5 ) 30% of the marbles in a box were blue. 45% of them were green and the rest orange. If there were 200 more blue marbles than orange ones, how many marbles were in the box?

Here is a 6th grade Singapore problem on proportionality:

1 6 ) A basket of clothes, when half full, weighed 2.4 kg. The basket became 5/8 full when another 0.5 kg of clothes were added in. What was the weight of the empty basket?
This is fifth and sixth grade!