Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Curtain call for Zig's book

NEW PLAN: Curtain Call for Earlier Chapters
The original schedule called for each chapter being on Zigsite.com for two weeks without ever returning. Several people have indicated that they did not access the earlier chapters. So there will be something of a curtain call:

Monday, February 26, 2007

When disaster strikes

I tried to make upgrades to this site and was promised by Blogger that my template would be saved. I cannot find the location where it was supposedly saved and now I lost my blogroll and all the other information on the left margin.

Sometimes it is better to leave well enough alone.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Buzzword education

(Cross-posted at KTM II)

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on buzzwords. Buzzwords may sound impressive but have an unclear meaning. Wikipedia says: "Buzzwords are typically intended to impress one's audience with the pretense of knowledge. For this reason, they are often universal. They typically make sentences difficult to dispute, on account of their cloudy meaning."

Buzzwords should not be confused with jargon. For the most part, jargon has a well-defined technical meaning, at least to the initiated. On the other hand, buzzwords not only obscure meaning, but "can also function to control thought by being intentionally vague." As Wikipedia puts it: "In management, stating organizational goals by using words with unclear meanings prevents anybody from questioning the directions and intentions of these decisions..."

What is true for management is true for education to a high degree. Education presents a veritable cornucopia of buzzwords with vague meanings. They form the feeble corpus of the educationist Thoughtworld that would be a corpse in a more rational world. (Thoughtworld is a term coined by E. D. Hirsch to describe the nebulous educationist thought complex).

Ed schools are a rich generator of educationist fog, blasting prodigious quantities of fog into the air the way Mount Pinatubo might spew massive amounts of ash into the air until the sun is reduced to a faint glow.

And yet, astonishingly and improbably, we are asked to believe that the massive amounts of fog mixed with toxic fumes emitted by ed schools magically stop at the schoolhouse door.

It's been claimed by some, including Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews (see The Ed School Disease, Part Two) commenting on educational historian David F. Labaree's new book, "The Trouble With Ed Schools," that ed schools may be pitiful institutions and the butt of jokes, but there is no need to worry. They are not doing any harm: "Why worry about ed schools if they don't do any harm, or any good?" Mathews avers:

What I said in that column was that I had been in a lot of classrooms and had rarely seen much of this guide on the side stuff. I wasn't saying I was happy about it. We have never given the Deweyites a fair test of their theories, and I know of a few schools that have used child-centered learning to good effect. Labaree's insight is powerful and useful all the same: why worry about ed schools if they don't do any harm, or any good?
The blindness revealed in this statement is astonishing. Could armies of new teachers and educational leaders who go through the rigorous ed school indoctrination process really emerge unscathed? Not very likely.

When attempting to write about the harm done by ed school ideology, it is hard to know where to begin. One could start with relatively minor topics like the preachments about the unimportance of correct spelling and the alleged benefits of invented spelling. One could start with the promotion of disastrous creeds like constructivism that are reflected in curricula and teaching methods, and form the core of ed school ideology.

A perusal of mission and vision statements of schools show how deeply entrenched ed school ideology is in the thinking of educationists who run the schools. Take, for example, Chicago's so-called Renaissance schools. Classrooms need to be heterogeneous, disciplines must be integrated, collaborative groups must engage in peer teaching, math and science must be learned by inquiry and discovery without coherent textbooks and so on. Among my many favorites is the Al Raby school:

Educational Philosphy [sic]
The Al Raby School will embody a constructivist approach to learning. Learning will be an active process; our teachers will use lecture style instruction and worksheets sparingly. All teachers will stress collaborative groups as well as individual initiative, striving to make the classroom a model democratic community where students have choices and responsibilities. Based on a large body of research, we believe that for true comprehension and retention to occur the learning must be relevant, active and reflective.
Many of these new Chicago schools receive money from the Gates Foundation.

It is also wrong for Mathews to presume teacher autonomy. Teachers are not free agents. They must work under the contraints imposed from above. In many schools, this means having to work with fuzzy math textbooks like TERC, Trailblazers, Connected Math, CorePlus, all execrable fuzzy math programs. The CMP teacher manual tells teachers not to provide explicit instruction. Math teachers I've talked to either follow this dictum or are agonizing over it. Often it can mean working with no textbooks at all. Periodically, an ed school-indoctrinated leadership comes in and orders the removal of textbooks and workbooks from classrooms. These are then given away or end up in the trash.

Even if teachers manage to defy ed school indoctrination, the obstacles they face in actual practice are formidable. They face not only institutional constraints (e.g. constructivist materials and approaches mandated from above), but they are also facing a student body that has been conditioned to expect to be entertained and to be resistant to expository instruction.

One of the pernicious effects of ed school ideology is how it produces an indoctrinated cadre for top leadership positions which then has the power to impose constructivist texts and practices on schools, like Chicago's CMSI. This cadre could be anything from superintendents to board members to curriculum and instruction experts to principals and supervisory bodies.

The message from this cadre is that explicit instruction should be minimized or avoided altogether; that worksheets (one of the hands-on activities that make sense) should be avoided like the plague [one reason for the highly restricted photocopying allotment given to teachers here in Chicago]; that textbooks are evil incarnate and prevent teachers from being "creative". On top of everything, overworked and frazzled teachers are expected to reinvent the wheel every day. Since many elementary teachers are not well-educated to begin with (e.g. a pathetic knowledge of history, geography and science), the one source of knowledge (textbooks) that could be a corrective is foreclosed. So you have instances of textbook-free schools. Schools without basals (hated by educationists), history and science textbooks, except for science "inquiry" manuals.

Part of this hatred for textbooks is the belief -- a component of ed school ideology -- that "information" (this is how educationists view knowledge) is exploding like supernovae, and what is true today is hopelessly obsolete tomorrow. Another reason is plain educationist disdain for facts. It interferes with "critical thinking" and "creativity" and stunts the mind.

One can see the hand of ed school ideology everywhere in school. At least I see it everywhere. I see it when DEAR (Drop Everything and Read insipid, vacuous and vapid fiction) is the first thing on the agenda in the morning when students are most receptive for more substantial stuff. This reading then takes place silently for an hour without teacher feedback. I see it in block scheduling to provide ample opportunity for time-wasting activities. I see it in contrived interdisciplinary instruction and in coloring and more coloring. I see the hand of ed school ideology indirectly when new elementary teacher candidates are released from the citadels of anti-intellectualism with scant knowledge of math, science, history, geography, grammar and languages, and subsequently validated by laughable state "content" tests.

The list goes on and on. I haven't even adressed ed school staples like learning styles, multiple intelligences, developmentally appropriate injunctions that often slide into low expectations, project and activities mania, heterogeneous grouping, expanding horizons, the travesty form of Bloom's taxonomy, and the disdain for factual knowledge. Moreover, once out of ed school, teachers continue to be assaulted with ed school ideology in the form of professional development requirements.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dimensional analysis

A reader of this site signing as Anonymous has left this fantastic comment modeled on Vern Williams' 4 3/8 dimension:

One morning as I was walking my kids up to school, the sidewalk ended and we fell into the Sevenths dimension and I actually believed the following:

All my child will ever need to know about sevenths is that they are a little bit bigger than eighths, and a little bit smaller than sixths.

It is not my job to teach my child.

It is my job to support my child's learning.

My child should never be bored in class.

My child isn't just wandering around his classroom chatting with classmates, he's a kinesthetic learner with high verbal intelligence.

Children don't mindlessly copy from each other in small groups; they richly create meaning in conversation with their peers.

My child will discover efficient mathematical algorithms on his own in a way that makes sense to him.

Learning by rote is bad.

If my child hasn't memorized his basic addition facts in first grade, he'll have another chance in second grade.

If my child hasn't memorized his basic addition facts in second grade, he'll have another chance in third grade.

I should drill my child on his basic addition facts at home in order to support the conceptual learning that takes place at school.

If my child hasn't memorized his multiplication facts in third grade, he'll have another chance in fourth grade.

If my child hasn't memorized his multiplication facts in fourth grade, he'll have another chance in fifth grade.

I should drill my child on his multiplication facts at home in order to support the conceptual learning that takes place at school.

I should be more active in the PTA.

I should buy more gift wrap.

I should go to a school board meeting and see real decisions being made.

I should feel guilty questioning the curriculum even if I have a college degree in the field of interest.

A 25 year-old teacher is a licensed professional who is fully qualified to teach my child.

Children should write about math a lot.

Teachers will lovingly read everything my child writes because, as teachers, they look forward to creating an authentic portfolio that assesses my child's true mathematical learnings across thematic units.

My child's teacher will be so proud of him when he graduates from high school that we should planning on buying her a ticket for the commencement ceremony so she can sit with us.

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. Every parent of every kindergartener I have ever met, myself included.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fever and recycling

Global warming hysteria is causing kids to freak out:

Global warming concerns are keeping children awake at night
Half of young children are anxious about the effects of global warming, often losing sleep because of their concern, according to a new report today.

A survey of 1,150 youngsters aged between seven and 11 found that one in four blamed politicians for the problems of climate change.
And then there is this line that had me rolling in the aisles and prompted me to post this story:

Most of those polled understood the benefits of recycling, although one in 10 thought the issue was linked to riding a bike.
Elsewhere I read that GW will cause fever in half the child population. I grew up in the subtropics where it was really hot and don't remember having had an unsual share of fevered days.

This site called live science has different views on GW. I has links to related topics that seem like a good source for teachers who want to have kids do research projects.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Math research hoax

Fuzzy math enthusiasts and curanderos like to point to alleged "research shows" to help peddle their wares.

Let the colonel explain.

Excerpts from a stunning report from the National Research Council posted on KTM II show that there is no there there.

Among other things, the committee finds that:

The corpus of evaluation studies as a whole across the 19 programs studied does not permit one to determine the effectiveness of individual programs with high degree of certainty, due to the restricted number of studies for any particular curriculum, limitations in the array of methods used, and the uneven quality of the studies.
As a bonus, there is a list of rogue fuzzy math programs, most of them financed with tax dollars through the EHR directorate of the National Science Foundation:

Elementary School:
• Everyday Mathematics (EM), Grades K-6 (SRA/McGraw-Hill)
• Investigations in Number, Data and Space, Grades K-6 (Scott Foresman) [ed.: also called "TERC"]
• Math Trailblazers, Grades K-6 (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company)

Middle School:
• Connected Mathematics Project (CMP), Grades 6-8 (Prentice Hall)
• Mathematics in Context (MiC), Grades 5-8 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
• MathScape: Seeing and Thinking Mathematically, Grades 6-8 (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill)
• MathThematics (STEM), Grades 6-8 (McDougal Littell)
• Middle School Mathematics Through Applications Project (MMAP) Pathways to Algebra and Geometry, Grades 6-8 (currently unpublished)

High School:
• Contemporary Mathematics in Context (Core-Plus), Grades 9-12 (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill)
• Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP), Grades 9-12 (Key Curriculum Press)
• MATH Connections: A Secondary Mathematics Core Curriculum, Grades 9-12 (IT’S ABOUT TIME, Inc.)
• Mathematics: Modeling Our World (MMOW/ARISE), Grades 9-12 (W.H. Freeman and Company)
• Systemic Initiative for Montana Mathematics and Science (SIMMS) Integrated Mathematics, Grades 9-12 (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company)

This list can help parents spot the offending and immensely damaging voodoo math programs in their schools so they can raise hell.

The long story of gold

Cross-posted at KTM II

Gold is a rare, odd-numbered atom with 79 protons. Common atoms have an even number of protons.

Here is something for science buffs. Where did gold come from?

Robert Krulwich of NPR asks this question apropos Valentine's Day and receives a long answer.

Ever since taking earth science courses in college I have been fascinated by the fusion processes in distant stars that produce different elements. This gold story explains why gold is so rare, as rare as a good education.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fuzzy math cartoon

UPDATE: In the latest, Steve advises Bill on where to find designers for Bill's latest project. Get them from the discovery schools Bill supports. Good advice for a competitor. If Bill takes the advice, I recommend shorting MSFT.

Check out this fantastic cartoon series at Weapons of Math Destruction. It's all about the ravages of fuzzy math.

I like the one where Einstein goes on a discovery journey and discovers the Pythagorean Theorem. Yeah, keep reinventing the wheel. That should be the motto of the fuzzies.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A better mousetrap

In the latest issue of Education Next, Diane Ravitch reviews a book on the sad story of how Open Court died the death of a thousand cuts:

Henderson tries to persuade the reader that the books should have been congenial to whole-language teachers because of their superior literature selections and should have been embraced by progressive educators because they blended the best of both approaches, including workshop activities, so-called reciprocal teaching (where the teacher and the students take turns as teacher), and other practices that were embraced by progressives. He never adequately explains why progressives did not see the obvious virtues of the Open Court readers (my guess is that any reader that paid any attention to explicit phonics was doomed in the eyes of progressives, at that period in history).

Henderson even buys the canard that the Caruses’ efforts to promote “high culture” were doomed by mass enrollments, as though it were an obvious truth that the children of the poor could never appreciate classic fairy tales and myths, a rather questionable assumption. Even so, Let’s Kill Dick & Jane is a fascinating and rather depressing read, explicating for all the world to see how an ambitious textbook series with rich content and beautiful illustrations died the death of a thousand cuts, administered by ideologues, bureaucrats, and the dumbed-down culture of American education.

Ultimately, the life and death of the original Open Court readers demonstrate that American education is a challenging environment for the industry that supplies its needs. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Blouke and Marianne Carus learned that this is not true, that the market is shaped more by fads and ideology than by evidence about what works best for children.