Saturday, September 30, 2006

Parental Education

My blog's name is a cross between the words "parental" and "education"... so in going with that theme, I would like to give a little bit of parental education.

1. Set high standards for your children and they will live up to them. (be happy if they turn out just a little bit better than you did)

2. Always give more praise than criticism constructive criticism. (At least 3 to 1 ratio)

3. Teach them to do chores at an early age. (especially if you have 5 kids).

4. Hug them every single day... twice a day if you can. (more if your lucky, those teenagers don't give them out easily)

5. Set an example in ALL things. Always do right. (They will do as you do, not as you say)

6. Remember they can teach you a thing or two. (i.e. your not always right)

7. When they say "You just don't understand" no amount of argument is going to convince them that you actually do understand. (after all we could never have been their age)

8. Do everything in your power to avoid volunteering to be a soccer coach. (I have yet to heed my own advice)

9. Remember, when you are old, you will want the same amoumt of attention from them that they want from you now. (it might be the difference between a nursing home and an in-laws suite)

10. Take a break. Go have a beer. It really will help you put things in perspective. (beer got you through college, it can get you through parenthood)

Famous quotes from kids:

"Dad you look just like He-man, except he has muscles."

"Mom, did you have your wrinkles when you were a kid?"

Good evening

Friday, September 29, 2006


Don't install the new update. It will slooooooooowwwwwwww down your system big time. I have been fighting with my computer all day.

On the other hand, the new version of Internet Explorer aint all bad. Its finally got tabbed browsers.

Here's how to get involved in your child's education -Lifestyle-Here's how to get involved in your child's education - (9/29/2006)

Most principals and educators are passionately committed to teaching your children.

But ask these dedicated women and men what else factors into a child's school success, and you'll hear a rousing cheer for parents who are involved in what, and how, their children learn.
Oh... silly me. I thought it was the schools job to teach children.

No homework, or not enough? If your child is not bringing home any homework (not all teachers believe in it), don't fret about lost opportunities to work together. Go online or to the library together to find books about topics being studied or get a jump on curriculum not yet covered.
Hmmm... how about too much homework?

I'm still around

What a busy week... soccer games every night, my girlfriend has been studying for her nursing final, and I have been busy writing an upcoming article.

Lets sum up:

My son was out for two days with strep throat, so he missed his TAG program.... boo hoo. Sarcasm intended.

I wrote another note to my 3rd grade girls teacher complaining about the amount of homework she had... I was given a message in no uncertain terms was she going to change her policy.

My 6th grader has taken to algebra like a fish to water. She also is earning a 99% in her science class.

My 1st grader's teacher had to physically restrain a child who became abusive.

Oh... and I'm off to Myrtle Beach tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

South Carolina Schools

I am not a native South Carolinian, but thanks to the cost of living in my native Los Angeles, the Air Force, and my girl friend, I have resigned myself to retiring here. Unfortunately, I have five kids that I am going to have to put through South Carolina schools.

Even though South Carolina scores around average on the NAEP assessment in 4th and 8th grade, we lag behind North Carolina when we compare SAT scores. South Carolina has a high SAT participation rate, but even when adjusted for income and demographics, South Carolina fairs poorly. As Swamp Fox points out in two recent posts:

Many of us who are more highly educated and affluent than the average South Carolinian smugly take comfort in the illusion that the problem is not us; average SC scores are low merely because we have lots of poor people. We believe, because we want to believe, that SC is last in SAT scores because there is a larger percentage of students taking the test in SC than in states with higher scores. That simply is not true.
An in a post appropriately tited The elite of South Carolina do the most to drag down the average

- South Carolina students in households with annual incomes above $100,000 scored 68 points below the national average.

- Those from families earning below $10,000 were 63 points below peers nationally, the College Board data show.
He also links to a great report on education from the South Carolina Policy Council by Edward J. Coulson entitled Achievement in Context: How South Carolina Students Fare Against their National and International Competition.

In his report, Coulson states:
Nor can it be said that America’s poor overall performance at the end of high-school is due to a large contingent of low-achieving students. In reality, there is no subject, no test, and indeed no grade, on which America’s best students are the world’s best students. At the 12th grade, America’s top students place dead last when compared to top students in other countries – implying that South Carolina’s highest achieving high-school seniors are, in reality, among the worst of the worst.
Later in the conclusion, there is this dire summary:

Another pattern of note is that South Carolina’s performance relative to the nation at large deteriorates at the high-school level. At the 4th and 8th grades, South Carolina is at or somewhat below the national average. Its average rank across NAEP 4th and 8th grade tests is 13th from last in the nation. By the senior year of high-school, South Carolina falls to last place on the SAT and second from last place on the ACT.

Finally, it should be re-emphasized that South Carolina has one of the highest, or even the highest (depending on the method of calculation), dropout rate in the nation. As a result, the already unflattering performance of its high-school seniors likely exaggerates the actual academic abilities of their age cohort, relative to other states.

An even greater concern in this era of global competition is that, as South Carolina’s students are falling to the bottom of the national heap, so, too, is the United States falling to the bottom of the international heap. In fact, the nation’s academic performance on the world stage mirrors that of South Carolina on the American stage. American students perform at about the average of industrialized nations at the 4th grade, consistently below average at the 8th grade, and at or near the bottom by the 12th grade. Thus, in order for South Carolina’s young people to be truly prepared to compete in the global economy, they would have to far surpass the average achievement of America’s high-school seniors. Regrettably, they do the opposite.

While our Governor and our State Superintendent argue over the budget, our schools continue to flounder without any clear direction. While my adopted state has been praised for his curriculum standards and its achievement tests, it seems to be missing any overall strategy for improving its education system. Despite its stated goal of "By 2010, South Carolina’s student achievement will be ranked in the top half of states nationally. To achieve this goal, we must become one of the five fastest improving systems in the country.". Unless we have some true innovative leadership that does more than pay lip service to education, this state will continue to lag behind nationally.

Im Worried...

I had to call my 1st graders school today to let them know that she would be parent pickup. This is what you hear when you first call...

"Thank you for calling [blank] Primary School, home of the [blank], where we are touching future educators, doctors, lawyers, field laborers, and other career choices."

I had to call back several times to make sure I hadn't misheard. Am I right to be worried?

School of the Future Watch

Safety Concerns For School Of The Future Students

The 170 freshmen at Philadelphia’s High School of the Future have been advised to give up their school-issued laptop computers, if threatened.

The students at the High School of the Future are among nearly 300 in Philadelphia schools with district-issued laptops. They may carry them to and from school, but it’s often through high-crime neighborhoods. The district has bought insurance for the laptops and software that allows any missing laptops to be traced.

Over the next two years, the Philadelphia School District plans to have 25-thousand laptop computers available to students and nearly half of those will go home with students.

With such a hot commodity, many parents are concerned about the safety of students traveling to and from school.

Its actually kind of sad that these students have to be worried about things like this. Not only will these students suffer because of their reliance on laptops vs. text books, but they also have to worry about crime. Even though the laptops can be replaced, I hope the SOF has enough foresight to have the kids backup their school work on to a server.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Giving Constructivism its Due...

You know the great thing about having a blog, is having commenter’s. I consider myself especially blessed to have several readers that are way more intelligent than I am, and who are willing to keep me on the straight and narrow re education. Obviously as an education blogger, with no teaching experience, limited reading on the subject (I am slowly fixing that), and no formal training, I have a lot to learn. It’s been my experience that some of the most useful sources of learning are actually in the comments of blog postings.

In my last post, rightwingprof’s pointed out that constructivism does have its uses. I realized my last post was an over the top satire of the problems with constructivism. It inspired me to do a bit of reflection on what and where I think constructivism might be useful and not so useful in my own children’s education. So in a nutshell here are a layman’s views on where and when constructivism might be useful is a K-8 situation, since its obviously not applicable to soccer coaching :)

Book reports and literature analysis is one of the areas that I think constructivism could be useful in promoting higher level thinking. Once a learner student digests a book, the student has to take what he has read and somehow relate his understanding of the world with the new knowledge, concepts, or themes that he identified in the book. Critical thinking here is key, because different students are going to read the book with a different world view or idea as to what is important in the world. Because of this, you can’t just instruct or drill into a student what the underlying message or themes of work of literature are. To properly interpret literature, it is probably useful to be involved in some group discussion and to learn by trial and error. Unfortunately, analyzing literature is one of those skills that doesn’t lend it self to standardized multiple choice testing. A certain amount of comprehension is going to be testable, but higher level critical thinking is probably best judged on a subjective scale… i.e. book reports, essay questions.

There are several other uses that I can see constructivism being useful, such as science application through science experiments and identifying themes in history. Of course I think at the K-5 levels of education, constructivism should be used mainly as a temporary diversion or break in routine, and used only to tie together content knowledge that has been mastered. Having said this, it’s probably mathematics that I have the hardest time seeing any benefits to constructivism. I am sure that some people would argue that constructivism teaches the application of math skills, but it seems that the schools try and teach applications way to early in a child’s educational career. Unless the mechanics of math are understood intuitively, it seems like any sort of “discovery” learning would serve no purpose.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Embracing Constructivism

I have decided to convert to the dark side and embrace the obvious superiority of constructivism and "discovery" learning. I started with my 7-8 year old soccer team. Instead of traumatizing the children by teaching them meaningless skills like kicking and dribbling, now I just give them the ball and tell them to discover the game of soccer on their own. I don't even bother explaining the rules because as we all know soccer rules were developed by an elitist white European culture. Instead, I let my kids create their own rules. To protect their self-esteem, each player earns a goal by breathing. One breath = 1 point. To address individual learning differences I have scheduled 17 different practices, because every kid is different. Since games (the sports equivalent of standardized testing) are culturally biased and ran by obviously prejudiced sexist referees, I developed my own measure of success. I rated my kids against kids who learn by a more regimented style, my kids came out on top. For each kid who picked up the ball with his hands thereby demonstrating creative thinking, I awarded that style of learning a point. In depth analysis of my study proved that my style of coaching had a positive effect of 1 million standard deviations. My next step is to write a book...

Originally posted on D-Edreckoning in response to Conceptualize This, also see his post on Chicken Porn.

47 % Nerd, 17% Geek, 26% Dork

The Nerd, Geek, Dork test.

I am "Joe Normal"

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored less than half in all three, earning you the title of: Joe Normal.

This is not to say that you don't have some Nerd, Geek or Dork inside of you--we all do, and you can see the percentages you have right above. This is just to say that none of those qualities stand out so much as to define you. Sure, you enjoy an episode of Star Trek now and again, and yeah, you kinda enjoyed a few classes back in the day. And, once in a while, you stumble while walking down the street even though there was nothing there to cause you to trip. But, for the most part, you look and act fairly typically, and aren't much of an outcast.

I'd say there's a fair chance someone asked you to take this test. In any event, fairly normal.


Another Friday Off...

Yes... I love my job. There are so many things out there to comment on; unfortunately I am intellectual Jell-O today. Instead, since this blog is about school from a parent’s point of view, let me give you a run down my experiences with the system this week.

On Tuesday, one of my 3rd grades started reading tutoring finally. She makes great grades in class, but has problems with the PACT test. She use to be in reading program when she was in another school district in 1st grade. When she transferred to this school district, they didn't have a reading program available, so she didn't get the extra help she needed in 2nd grade. Luckily we raised enough hell, and her teacher supported us this year. She really enjoyed her first day... her reading teacher is my son's 3rd grade teacher. Hopefully they gave her an initial evaluation, so we can track her progress.

My son started the Talented and Gifted program on Tuesday, and I stopped in to meet the teacher. It was as bad as I feared. His TAG teacher has a degree in Art and when I asked her what her plans were for the glass, she told me she was going to teach using Art. I started asking some hard questions about what exactly they were going to learn, especially in Math, and already know who I was already. It seems the testing coordinator had already warned told her about me. I did manage to get her to verbally commit to providing accelerated math instruction, but it was like pulling teeth. We will see what happens.

Non school related:

Both of my 3rd graders scored goals in their soccer matches... I’m such a proud daddy.

Well, I’m going to surf around and see if I can find anything interesting to say.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Homework Debate Part 1562

Via Kevin Drum over at Washington Monthly: Connor Clarke at the American Prospect thinks the recent debate over homework an exercise in futility. He connects the homework debate to the achievement gap.

When it succeeds, homework is, in those rare instances, the poster-child example of an educational policy that overwhelmingly advantages rich students with well-educated parents. This shouldn't come as a shock, since homework, as its name implies, is usually done in the home. That is where differences in class, education, and family structure are starkest. As Richard Rothstein details in Class and Schools, those differences are not slight: Disadvantaged parents are less likely to help their children and, when they do, their help is likely to be less valuable. Affluent children are likely to have rooms or workspaces of their own, while many underprivileged students must carve out a nook in more crowded housing. And when they do so, they aren't apt to have computers or reference books on hand to help.

The point here is not that debates about educational policy are always a bad thing. Abolishing or reforming homework might be a worthwhile project, and it will doubtlessly increase the aggregate happiness of a certain demographic. But such reforms are always doomed to have a limited effect; the developmental impact of wealth and family is simply too great to ignore. So go ahead and scrap homework. (And, while you're at it, build me a time machine back to high school.) Just make sure you get rid of economic, social, and racial inequality, too.

A couple of comments.

My complaint of homework is completely seperate from my views on improving education and the achievement gap. I do think that the same methods that would improve school for low all performing groups, would also eliminate much of the need for hours of homework, but my main concern is that homework wastes precious time in a busy busy world.

I also think that he underestimates the heredity of iq and overestimates the influence of "early social context" and cultural experiences in childrens achievement.

In the end he sums up:

But such reforms are always doomed to have a limited effect; the developmental impact of wealth and family is simply too great to ignore. So go ahead and scrap homework. (And, while you're at it, build me a time machine back to high school.) Just make sure you get rid of economic, social, and racial inequality, too.

I think this is a case of putting the egg before the chicken. To many people think that if they could eliminate social inequities that the achievement gap would fix itself. I say that if we fix/improve education first, we can reduce the achievement gap, while raising the performance of all students. This would in turn improve the SES of the currently low performaning groups. Of course it will take a generation for us to see the results, but the last 40 years of helping hand social policies haven't succeeded either. I am not a right wing conservative. I believe in a nationalized healthcare system, that people should be taxed on a progressive scale, public education, and yes I think that some forms of welfare are necessary. Unfortunately, I think there is too much wishful thinking being done by parties on both sides of the political spectrum and not enough realistic solutions.

On another note... Emily Bazelon at Slate also agrees that there is too much homework, and I bet she doesn't even have five kids.

My Kids 3rd Grade Math Book

Image from Mathematics: The Path To Math Success! by Sivler Burdett Ginn page 60.

I promised I would post an image of my 3rd graders math book. Hopefully I don't get in trouble for copyright infringment. The page is on "acting it out as a problem solving method". I suppose thats one method. On closer examination of the text book, I confess that its not as bad as it could of been. I do have some problems... it skips around from geometry to multiplication to estimations to division. There is way to much review at the beginning of the book. It also ends with one digit by two digit multiplication and division. I would think that most 3rd graders given proper instruction would be able to move beyond this by the end of the year given better instruction.

Update: I realize its hard to read the image. The problem is about three kids tossing the ball in a circle. Who has the ball after the 12th catch. The suggested solution, act it out.

Update #2: I found a great site that reviews math books. My 3rd graders book is Mathematics: The Path To Math Success! from Silver Burdett Ginn. The review is of its 2nd grade version is over here at

Overall Evaluation [3.4]
Students using this program have a reasonable chance of moderate achievement levels. On the other hand, this program is not seen as supporting high achievement levels. It is possible that a skillful teacher could overcome some of the limitations of this program and use it more effectively. The heavy reliance on models and the potential confusion in the treatment of perimeter are examples of areas where an effective teacher could improve upon the student learning supported by this program.

Thank god I already supplement my kids math skills. I would be interested in learning which books other people with elementary school kids are using.

"Crtical Thinking, Not Standardized Tests" in Context

KDeRosa has a great post up on the latest editorial “Critical Thinking, Not Standardized Tests” over at the Los Angeles Times. He does such a great job, that I am not going to even bother covering the content of the editorial…

Of course, as you may suspect, I am a master googler. Using my awesome skills, I decided to look at the background of the author who would write:

In fact, test scores (on the annual standardized state test) are like the closing prices on the stock exchange. They fluctuate for any number of reasons. A bad breakfast, a case of the jitters or skipping a line and filling in the wrong bubbles can wreak as much havoc as not knowing the difference between "abjure" and "adjure."

Of course our first instinct is to assume that he is making excuses for his students. I mean after all he does work at an elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He probably works in a failing inner city school comprised of Hispanic immigrants and poor African Americans. I am sure his school has no money for field trips or school supplies… right?

WRONG! With a bit of googling this is what I was able to find out.

Jeff Lantos actually works at Marquez Charter Elementary School in Pacific Palisades. Yes… that’s right, Pacific Palisades, enclave to the rich. Its medium house value is $1,759.500, and the average medium income is $133,000.

And of course Jeff Lantos doesn’t worry about standardize test scores. Why worry when your schools scores are well above the national and state averages. His students parents can afford to supplement the liberal education that they are being given.

Oh, I know… how do I know that he provides a liberal education. Well, it is an assumption on my part based on his biography located here at his schools website. To quote:

His teaching philosophy is to reinforce
the reading, writing and math
with as much music, art, drama and
dance as possible
. His goal is to
make the classroom a place of delight
and joy; then learning will seem an
extension of that. When learning is a
joy, everyone benefits.

Dance??? He teaches 5th grade… and he supplements math with dance! Maybe they learn algebra while doing the electric slide. Certainly sounds child-centered to me. Yes, it’s easy to ignore the basics when you are teaching privileged rich kids who take field trips to Boston and Big Bear.

Now rich people have a right to education just like everyone else. I am glad that their kids are getting an excellent education, but it’s all too easy for the spoiled teachers who instruct them to take for granted the importence of things that are a given (such as his students test scores). What would his tune be if he worked at Hyde Park Elementary School. It’s all a matter of context. I want success for all students, and I am more likely to take someone serious if they work with average or below average students.

Ironically even his successful high scoring students could probably do a lot better if they had proper instruction. Successful is relative when your in a system full of mediocrity.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


So I finally fixed my blog. I like this look a lot better than the one I had to resort to temporarily. I also added Right Wing Nation to my blog roll. I don't necessarily agree with all of his politics, since I am a left leaning moderate politically, but he raises good points and I agree with 99% of his views on education.

Though rightwingprof's post entitled "Diversity Destroys Education" might be misleading, he makes some excellent points. He ridicules the notion that teachers should tailor their instruction to individual students, pointing out that it’s simply not possible for a teacher to cover all the information multiple times to cater to different types of learners. He concentrates on how the progressive constructivist view on education is especially not appropriate to math education.

Allowing multiple [teaching] methods encourages failure — because, again, math is wholly linear, and skills build upon other skills. Allowing students to "own" math means not teaching them math at all.

The linearity of math means that there is exactly one method, and only one method, for any given skill:
2 that symbol manipulation which must be mastered not only to solve the current problem, but to master other skills down the road. It makes no difference if little Johnny would rather glue macaroni on toilet paper tubes. It makes no difference if little Michelle is a crayon project-oriented learner. Only one method accomplishes the entire reason for teaching the skill in the first place.

I wholeheartedly agree with him with one caveat. It might not be possible to tailor math instruction or any other subject for that matter to every "group" out there, but I do think that there is a strong argument for single sex education. Despite feminist denials there is plenty of evidence that single sex education actually benefits girls. Rightwingprof correctly points out that mathematics is the cornerstone of education, unfortunately with today’s one size fits all and child centered approach to education we aren’t even providing our children with a proper foundation of skills.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New Look

Sorry had to change the look of my blog. For some reason, the old template wasn't showing up correctly. The column on the left was displaying on the bottom of the page. I didn't have the time to try and troubleshoot it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I’m not prejudice, but…

Last night while talking with one of the mothers of a kid on the soccer team I coach, she told me about her son’s class at the same primary school (K-1) that my daughter goes to. Starting out with the phrase “I’m not prejudice, but…) she complained about how the school needs to ensure diversity. It seems she is unhappy that her son is the only white kid in his classroom. The school is about 50% white and 50% black, and she reasoned that the school should ensure that the school should ensure that all classrooms should reflect this ethnic makeup. Her argument was that her son felt “different” in his class.

First let me say that I have had three kids attend the same school and I have always really liked the school. I loved how they were only a K – 1, the administration was always helpful and friendly, and the teachers genuinely care about providing a quality education (even if they don’t use the most effective methods). I have never noticed the ratio of ethnicities in my kids in the school and frankly never paid attention. I am much more concerned about whether there were disruptive students of any race. I am positive that our school assigns classes randomly and his class was just a fluke.

It saddened me to hear an otherwise kind and educated person complain about ensuring diversity, when it didn’t take a genius to realize that it was her own racism that was behind the complaint. I know her son and like most 7-year olds, he couldn’t care less whether his fellow students were black or white, but all she saw was color and class. I am positive if his class was mostly white that she wouldn’t mind at all. Her son’s academic’s is going to be determined by the effectiveness of the teacher, his natural learning ability (yes I mean IQ), and how much supplemental effort she puts in at home, not whether the child beside her has the same pigment of skin.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Competing with Microsoft

Someone has decided to compete with Microsoft's lesson plans. See my previous post.

From the Radical Math website: "Radical Math is a resource for educators interested in integrating issues of social, political, and economic justice into math curriculum and classes..."

On how to integrate social justice into math:

-- The Basics --
It is important but not necessary that all projects and units have a solution-based component. Don't just focus on the problems your students and their communities are facing - it's the creative solutions we're generally short on. So one of your goals should be for students to understand the issues and think about how to solve them.

In other words, the important thing is not that you have actual math, but a political agenda that at least has some numbers... any number will do.

From the Trenches of Public Ed.: Rosy Rhetoric From a Pro-Public Ed. Person

From the Trenches of Public Ed.: Rosy Rhetoric From a Pro-Public Ed. Person

In response to Dennis at The Trenches of Public Education and his rosy outlook of public education

"Nearly 75 percent of U.S. high school graduates enroll in college within two years of graduation,1 yet only 56 percent of 2005 high school graduates who took the ACT® test took a core preparatory curriculum in high school. And even among those who report taking a core high school curriculum—four or more years of English and three or more years each of math, social sciences, and natural sciences—a significant number are still not prepared to succeed in credit-bearing first year courses." “Nearly one-third of students entering some type of postsecondary education need to take remedial courses in one or more subjects because they lack the skills to take standard credit-bearing courses. This figure balloons to 43 percent for students entering predominantly minority colleges.”

Degree Attainment Rates at American Colleges and Universities," prepared by education professor Dr. Alexander W. Astin and doctoral student Leticia Oseguera, found that among freshmen that entered baccalaureate-granting colleges in fall 1994, only 36.4 percent were able to complete their bachelor's within four years. That compares to 39.9 percent a decade earlier and 46.7 percent in the late 1960s. The degree-completion rate jumps by nearly two-thirds, to 58.8 percent, for students taking six years to complete college, and to 61.6 percent when including those enrolled after six years are counted as "completers."

Let’s put this in to perspective. Out of my 5 kids, 1 will not graduate high school. Only 3 out of 4 of the HS graduates will enroll in college. 1 of the 3 entering college will need remedial education prior to taking basic courses. Only 1 out of my 5 kids will graduate college in 4 years, another 1 will graduate in 6 years. The 3rd will drop out. I started out with 5 kids, and only 2 of them managed to graduate college. Am I a successful parent? Personally, I hoped for better.

When we talk about whether schools are failing or merely need improvement, it’s all semantics. We need to ask ourselves if this scenario is acceptable or whether we could do a lot better than this.

School update

My 1st grader forgot her reading book for the 2nd day in a row. Yes 1st graders have reading books.

My 3rd grade son went to his first day of TAG… its not looking good. On his first day all they did was write a mini essay on them selves. I received a letter from the Teacher introducing herself. She is an Art major. I swear I will pull him out of the program if they don’t do some actual teaching.

My 3rd grade daughter had to much homework again. She had 10 sentences to write (30 minutes), math worksheet (20 minutes), and reading worksheet (1 hour). We skipped her 15 minutes of reading since we had soccer practice, but still 1 hour and 40 minutes of homework at 8 years old.

My 6th grader had pre-algebra. She actually took to it very quickly and enjoyed it, although she struggled with her multiplication facts still.

Monday, September 11, 2006

TAG what does it stand for... absolutely nothing

TAG... I was really really hoping it mean talented and gifted, but I'm not so sure anymore. Today I got home a letter and permission slip for my son's Academically Gifted and Talented Program which he starts tomorrow. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that in his Lookout classes, my child will:

"work on interdisciplinary units and other activities that are designed to develop creative and critical thinking skills, independent learning procedures, communication skills, and group dynamics."

I dont even know what this means. This is exactly the sort of edubabble goobly gook that I can't stand. My son doesn't need independent learning procedures, he is 8 years old for god sake. Group dynamics!!! I am pretty sure that my son qualified based on his math scores, not his social skills. Is it so hard... say it after me slowly... "acceleration". It says right in South Carolina Regulation 43-220, Gifted and Talented, paragraph II A. 2. (D), that the one of the purposes of the program is to provide "a confluent approach that incorporates acceleration and enrichment". ac‧cel‧er‧a‧tion 1. the act of accelerating; increase of speed or velocity. As in... teach things at a faster pace so that he could learn more in less time. Its a pretty simple concept. Now I can understand a little bit of this whole child centered learning junk might be useful with gifted children, but couldn't they include just a little bit of "acceleration", just a little. My son is capable of learning 4th and 5th grade math, but will he get to? It doesn't look like it. Instead my son is going to learn "communication skills". Oh well at least he will be able to easily tell me how bored he is.

Piling it on to "The School Of The Future"

Philadephia’s School of the Future (SOTF) has taken a few knocks lately. First D-Ed Reckoning says it will “all end in tears”, then rightwingprof calls the curriculum “mindless old crap”. Now it’s my turn.

Rightwingprof pointed out that in the Reuters article on the SOTF that the new Principal Dr Shirley Grover is quoted as saying"

"It's not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test," Grover said. "It's about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu."

Laughing yet? Perhaps she just happened to give a bad example. Surely they aren’t going to have lesson plans this inane. I mean after all the SOTF is partnered with Microsoft and there is no way a multi-billion dollar technology company would encourage such nonsense. Alas, things are as bad as they seem. Being the google master that I am, I managed to find Microsoft’s SOTF website. It seems Microsoft has its own education site with lesson plans for teachers, nicely divided by subjects. Some examples:

Under the Mathematics category we have:

Making Money From Lemons which calls for the instructor to “Tell the students to go into the lemonade stand business. Each of them will own their own business and make decisions about materials, costs and how to make the lemonade. They should also know that even if they have really good tasting lemonade, sometimes the weather affects how much lemonade people buy. They will get to see a weather forecast, but they should keep in mind it isn't always accurate.”

And of course the infamous How Much Water Does Your Family Use? where students use excel to track their water usage and compare it to other students.

Microsoft just doesn’t cover mathematics though, they also have History lesson plans entitled History and Culture through Food and of course What is Jazz? All major subjects are covered. Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, etc…

Well the kids might not learn how to use the quadratic equation, but at least when they graduate school without any basic math skills they can always open up a lemonade stand and track how much water they use with Microsoft Excel. After all if food can be part of history, why can’t lemonade.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hope Yet

Dennis over at The Trenches of Public Education has been doing his homework. He regularly butts heads with Kevin over at D Ed-Recknoning, and today posted an article addressing their disagreements head on. In it, Dennis says the following:

KDeRosa's tirades against public schools are based on his contention that we are using faulty teaching methods, and he makes constant references to something called "
Project Follow Through." At first, I didn't know what he was talking about.

And then…

I spent about three years taking classes to earn a Masters, and I heard lots about cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and all that other progressive stuff. During all of that I never even heard Direct Instruction mentioned. (Neither was the name, E. D. Hirsch, or the term, cultural literacy.) If the articles I've read on Project Follow Through are at all true, and Direct Instruction performed that much better than the other methods, how in the world could this have happened?

I will be truthful here. When I read this last paragraph, I honestly thought that Dennis was being sarcastic, but apparently not… because he goes on to say

But if there's a teaching method out there that can help us be more effective for more kids--possibly much more effective--why aren't policy-makers and education schools telling us about it?


Although I don't think any teaching method will make as big a difference as he believes, I'll take any improvement we can get. I think a lot of us should be taking a very good look at Direct Instruction.

I suspect that many teachers won’t have a choice but to take a look at DI. NCLB flawed or not is here to stay. Eventually it will force schools to use every trick and/or method at their disposal to raise test scores. Even schools in affluent neighborhoods are in danger of being called failures due to AYP requirements. The current trendy educational methods have ran their course and proven to be ineffective at improving the scores of disadvantaged children, there is no where left to go but to models such as Direct Instruction. With the increasing popularity of charter schools and advent of school vouchers on the horizon, public schools are going to have to go back to the drawing board. There will be a lot of discontent but eventually you can’t fight science and research, only delay its implementation.

Finally let me say, that I admire Dennis greatly and he and I have some great debate over various issues. I am especially impressed that he took the time to research a subject with an open mind. Even though I am a critic of the current educational system, it is because of teachers like Dennis that I am encouraged that our system can improve. We can argue all we want about constructivism vs. Direct Instruction, but when it comes right down to it, our children depend on dedicated professional teachers to make it all happen.

On a related note, please forgive my blatant grammatical errors and spelling errors I made when commenting on Dennis's blog. I had been watching the Ohio State kick Texas ass and had a few beers :) By the way, just to clear things up, I am a USC fan.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Another rant...

Ok, I am a math person, I admit it. I loved proofs, I loved calculus, I loved algebra. I also truly believe that math is one of the most under emphasized, poorly taught subjects in American schools. Math is a building block subject, everything you learn is essential to learning at the next higher level, and when schools shortchange our younger students, they set them up for failure at the later grades, and the if a student hasn't learned the basics, they will fall farther and farther behind. For example, my 6th grader had pattern recognition homework yesterday. This is the same child who never properly committed the multiplication tables to memory in 3rd grade. It was so frustrating to try and help her recognize number patterns that dealt with multiplication... i.e. (1, 3, 9, 27 ...) when she still resorts to counting on her fingers to perform multiplication problems. We managed to muddle through it, but I worry whether in all the help we had to give her in math, that she never truly got the whole concept of looking for patterns. Yes we continue to work with her on her tables, something that should of been done 3 years ago, but its a struggle.

In other news, a little bitching goes along way. We had contacted our schools administration to complain about their policy on qualifying for extra reading tutoring. Today we received word that they had found space for one of our 3rd graders in the program. What would happen to our kids if we were less involved parents?

Curriculum Narrowing

So for a few days now I have been harping on how I felt like schools needed to cut back on the amount of social studies and science in the earlier grades and concentrating more on reading and math. Today, via eduwonk, I came across this report(pdf) by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement on curriculum narrowing. They come to this conclusion:

Some schools might well need to expand
instructional time in reading to enable students
to become fluent readers. But educators should
be made aware that cutting too deeply into
social studies, science, and the arts imposes
significant long-term costs on students,
hampers reading comprehension and thinking
skills, increases inequity, and makes the job of
secondary level teachers that much harder. Only
when teachers and administrators are fully aware
of the tradeoffs can they make good decisions
about whether, how, and for whom to narrow the
curriculum one educational strategy that should
never be considered lightly.

I am sure that smarter people than I will dissect this report, but I wanted to comment on a couple of things that I read in the article.

Furthermore, the negative consequences of
curriculum narrowing are even greater for low income
students, which means the practice can
end up magnifying achievement gaps. That's
because more affluent students have alternative
ways of gaining "world knowledge" even when
their schools do a poor job of teaching about art,
culture, history, geography, and the natural world.
They can pick it up from trips and vacations,
visits to museums and other cultural settings,
even from adult conversations in the household.
In contrast, disadvantaged students are highly
dependent on schools to provide them with a
rich vocabulary and broad knowledge about the
world outside their neighborhoods. For many
poor urban and rural children, schools provide the
primary access to that background knowledge.

I am skeptical of this argument. I think they are way overestimating both the amount of time that affluent parents spend taking their kids to museums and the amount of "world knowledge" that they pick up at home. My guess is high income parents are more likely to take their kids to Disneyland than they are to the museum, and I don't think the layout of Tomorrowland is the type of background knowledge that the authors mean. I suspect that the real advantage that affluent kids get over disadvantaged kids is more likely to be an inherited high IQ.

Second, even if administrators cannot extend
the school day, week, or year to make the time
to teach a broad, rich curriculum, they might
be able to squeeze more out of the hours
they already have. A growing body of research
suggests that many American schools do not
make very efficient and productive use of their
For example, a study by the Consortium on
Chicago School Research found that elementary
school students received less than four hours of
on-task instructional time on a typical day, and
only 125 days out of the 180 in a school year
were devoted to academic work. All told, the
researchers estimated that students received
about 500 hours of instruction per year, far short
of the district's intended target of 900 hours.

I actually have no problem at all believing this. There is way to much waste time in classrooms. This is one of the reasons I am in favor of Direct Instruction in the early grades . I suspect that the real advantage of DI programs is that they provide instruction in an organized and concise way, as opposed to a more constructivist method of teaching, thereby teaching more in the time allotted. Go visit any 2nd grade classroom for a day, and most people would be astonished at how little "on task" teaching actually gets done in a six and a half hour day.

For many years, we assumed that strong
comprehension skills would follow automatically if
students learned how to decode text fluently and
accurately and were encouraged to read a lot.
But that's not the case. Cognitive psychologists
have found that there's another step in between
fluent decoding and comprehension in which
readers call on background knowledge about a
topic to understand what the text is saying and
what it is not saying. Readers without adequate
background knowledge can comprehend some
of the text, but they will not understand it fully.

I don't think this is any great surprise to anyone. I do believe that our elementary schools should be providing background knowledge, but background knowledge without adequate reading and decoding skills is just as troublesome.

All and all, I think the authors did raise some interesting points, and they certainly caused me to reevaluate my opinion. This is a subject matter that I am going to have to ponder a little more. Obviously there is a balance to be struck, unfortunately the authors didn't tell us what the right balance is.

Update: That didn't take long. K DeRosa pointed me towards this article on Vocabulary Acquisition. I must confess that much of it is over my head, but I noted the following:

The only realistic chance students with poor vocabularies have to catch up to their peers with rich vocabularies requires that they engage in extraordinary amounts of independent reading... the development of strong beginning reading skills facilitated vocabulary growth, which in turn facilitated the further increases in reading. This reciprocal, causal relation between reading and vocabulary seems to continue unabated throughout development.

I am more and more convinced that the key to improving education lies with the early grades... the grades that should theoretically be where students learn the "basics". Improve K-5 education first, then slowly move up the educational chain...

Update #2: From a paper on Centennial Place Elementary School at the Achievement Alliance, that is often held up as an example of how to improve education, especially for minorities.

In addition, they focused the curriculum a little more tightly. “We might
have been guilty of teaching too much, but in not enough depth.”

Off Topic

Writing is a skill that comes with practice. Every morning I read over the posts that I wrote the previous day. I am always shocked at how poor my grammar is. Most of the writing I do at work is on performance reports, which require a very specific "bullet" style of writing. Ironically this is an education blog, where I expect a great number of my readers are teachers and all of them are college educated. I suppose practice makes perfect...

By the way... D-Ed Reckoning has a great post on background knowledge and how kids need to know basic facts in order to learn new things. I think it relates nicely to my post yesterday on social studies in elementary school.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


My 6th grader said the following today after doing her homework: "You know why social studies is boring? You learn the same thing every year."

This is why I believe that elementary schools should concentrate on the basics and ease up on the social studies and science, except as part of reading. Kids at that age just dont grasp the concepts and certainly don't remember the stuff. I am not saying don't expose them to it, but make it part of the reading or math lessons and don't concentrate on it as much. When they get to Middle school hopefully they will be more proficient at reading and math, and will more likely to truly "get" and appreciate the sciences.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Professor Sums up the Testing Controversy

Steven Dutch, a professor at the University of Wisconsin has a great post up on the Top Ten No Sympathy Lines for students who complain about their grades is class. One of them summed up my opinion on standardized testing and its opponents.

I Know The Material - I Just Don't Do Well on Exams

Leprechauns, unicorns, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, hobbits, orcs - and students who know the material but don't do well on exams. Mythical creatures.
I've met students who claim to know the material but not do well on exams, but when you press them, it turns out they don't know the material after all. If you can't answer questions about the material or apply the knowledge in an unfamiliar context, you don't know it. You might have vague impressions of specific ideas, but if you can't describe them in detail and relate them to other ideas, you don't know the material.
In addition to content, every type of exam used in college requires specific, vital intellectual skills. Essay exams require you to organize material and present it in your own words. Short-answer exams require you to frame precise, concise answers to questions. Multiple choice exams require you to define criteria for weeding out false alternatives and selecting one best answer. All of these are useful skills in themselves. If you can't do well on some specific type of test - learn the appropriate skill.

emphasis mine

I have never understood the argument against standardized testing. I am in the USAF and we have multiple choices tests as part of our promotion system. I have had several people who work for me who tell me that they "don't do well on tests" to explain their low scores. Inevitably when I dig deeper, I discover that the real problem its not testing that they do poorly on, its studying... as in not doing it. If our students don't do well on tests, its not because tests are faulty, its because the teaching was inadequate. I also have no sympathy for those who say they get too nervous before tests due to the pressure. What are they going to do when their boss gives them a deadline at work... freeze up and not do it. If someone is that bothered by the pressure, then they aren't going to much use in the workforce anyway. In the military we practice practice practice until our jobs become almost second nature. Its the same with elementary education. Our students need to practice, study and yes memorize the basics so that when they move on to high school and college the basic reading and math is second nature. That way they can concentrate on the more comprehensive tying together of facts part of education. How else to measure how well our students have accomplished this, then to test them.

Hat tip Joanne Jacobs

Carnival of Education "The Village People" Edition.

What ever side or opinion you hold about education, schools, or anything related, the weekly Carnival of Education is always a must read. I am especially happy to say that even I got a mention (ok, I submitted my own post). I was especially happy to see several new blogs from parents, but whomever you are, be sure to check out The "Village People" Education Carnival Get on the Bus Observations on schools, kids, teachers, teaching and education by Scott Elliott, Dayton Daily News.

Young man... la, la, la la, la, la...

grrr.... I got that song stuck in my head now.

Y M C A...

Meeting the teacher.

I just got back from a meeting with my 3rd grade daughters teacher. A couple of weeks ago she had contacted us to develop an “academic plan” because our daughter had scored below proficient on the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests (PACT). Overall the meeting went relatively smoothly, but we did throw the teacher some curveballs.

First, the teacher was rather surprised when we informed her that we thought that daughter was getting a little too much homework. For example last night our daughter had to put her 15 spelling words in ABC order three times (30 minutes), do a reading worksheet, (30 minutes), a math worksheet (20 minutes), study her 1, 2, 3, and 5 multiplication facts (20 minutes), and read for 15 minutes and fill out her reading log (20 minutes). On top of this, I had to take her to soccer practice (1.5 hours), feed her (30 minutes), shower (30 minutes)… you get the idea. I got the impression that the teacher wasn’t receptive to our complaint, but she did say she would consider splitting up the ABC order and the writing the words three times into separate nights. We have noticed that combining these two exercises intimidates our kids and causes them to get a little whiney. The teacher did say that the homework should only take them 45 minutes a night, not including the studying and reading… she obviously doesn’t have kids of her own. I am considering video taping our daughter after school so the teacher would have more realistic expectations. It was also mentioned that many kids turn in wrong and incomplete homework that it’s obvious the parents haven’t checked it. Maybe our high expectations contribute to the problem. When it comes down to it, if her teacher assigns it, then our daughter will do it and do it right.

The other issue that the teacher and we both agreed on was how the district handles after school tutoring. She was required to have an academic plan because she didn’t meet standards, but she didn’t score low enough to qualify for the tutoring program. Talk about stupid. Maybe next time we should tell her to do worse on the tests…

Now on to the crux of the problem, her reading comprehension. She is bright and doing well in every other subject, but reading is a struggle for her. My guess is that a large part of her problem is recognizing new and/or long words. For some reason she gets really frustrated when we ask her to sound out the words. I have discovered that she will often read a passage and say that she understood it, but when I ask her to read it out loud, she will not know several key words. I know there are some good teachers out there… any suggestions?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Feeling for her...

Here is a story of a disruptive student and an unsupportive administration that would serve to frustrate anybody. Maybe Dennis at From the Trenches of Public Ed. has a point when he says that teachers need to have the power to get rid of "disruptive" students. It might not be politically correct to say, but some students are beyond saving. The only other possible solution that I could come up with is to pass a law stating that the parent of any disruptive or chronically truant student would have to attend class with their child for face jail. I know this would cause loss of income for many parents, but it would definately add some bite and motivation for apathetic parents.

For a related post on motivation/dicipline in the class room see elementaryhistoryteacher's post entitled What is it going to take? in which she lays out seven basic needs that students have.

School Ownership

So this morning I am perusing The 82nd Carnival of Education, and I came across Margret's post on Where Are the Students in the National Standards Debate? over at her blog Poor, Starving, College Student . She notes that

"Here's a point. Many analyst have pointed out that the public doesn't seem to act as if they have ownership over their schools. They act more like "Oh, that's the school .""

She then goes on to ask

"How does one develop ownership? Now you want to make a policy that again, the public isn't going to feel ownership over. [national standards] Aren't we right back where we started? Why can't we solve problems that are staring us in the face?"

This question is one that is very dear to my heart. I am a bit of an education nerd, I consider myself fairly educated about policy, and I am fairly involved in my kids schooling, yet I don't feel like I have any ownership in any of the three schools that I send my children to. As I have said before, I tried the PTA route, but gave that up. I have seriously considered running for the local school board, but since I am in the military and therefore lack long term ties to the community, making any run at the board is a long shot. This just begs the question, is running for the school board the only way to have influence over my children's education? Having an influence on education was actually the whole reason I started this blog. Unfortunately I have come to realize that the easiest way to influence control over your children's education is by school choice. Whether by charter schools, vouchers, or simple moving districts, there is no other easy way to control your child's education. The public school system has become such a bureaucracy, that any attempts to influence it even a little is virtually impossible. Of course it appears to me that unless you live in a truly failing urban school district, charters or vouchers aren't available on large scale yet. For us who live in mediocre school systems, we have no options.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Education and Sex

Education and sex... Darren over at Right on the Left Coast posts Strip Club Raises Money for Las Vegas School District. As I posted in his comments section, why can't my kid's schools have fund raisers like this. I have to sell lousy candy bars instead.


6 Common Sense Solutions for Schools

Ok, I am off work today, but up early with the baby. So to continue my blogging spree, I thought I would propose my recommended solutions for improving the education system.

1. Extend the school day. Parents get off work at 5 pm, kids get off at 2:30.... It doesn't take a genius to see the problems here. Sure all those dodgy after school programs would take a financial hit, but maybe then our schools could include a real physical education program and stop fobbing the teaching job off on us parents with all that inane homework.

2. Concentrate on the basics in elementary school. What do you think is more important in today's average workplace... knowing who the 3rd President of the United States is or being able to read and comprehend company policy or an operator’s manual?

3. Adopt modern technology such as PowerSchool. I am always shocked about how unorganized schools are when I visit the teachers and administrators. Imagine, I could see my children's grades in real time and the school could eliminate several tons of paper. Good for me and the environment.

4. One word... Direct Instruction... Ok that's two words, but I would of known that if my school had used D.I. when I was in grade school.

5. School Uniforms. Eliminate the visible difference between the haves and the have-nots and reduce my annual kids clothing budget. Besides, kids look so damn cute in them.

6. Stop the damn school fund raisers. No one wants to buy cheap items at exorbitant prices. If I want a candy bar, I will go to the corner store and buy one. If you need more money, raise my taxes or better yet become more efficient. Don't even start me on what I could do, if you gave me 30 kids and $300,000 a year.

7. Single sex education. Boys and girls are different! I figured it out when my son picked up my daughters Barbie doll and turned it into a machine gun. Integrate them in elective classes, but keep them separated for the important stuff.

Notes: Yes I know I could find most of this at a good catholic school, but I have five kids and work on a government salary. You do the math.

Disclaimer: These opinions are the authors and do not reflect those of the mother of his kids. She strongly disagrees with the single sex education thing.

Update #1: Yes I know the title says 6 solutions and I posted 7... see item #4. And I am too damn stubborn to change it now.

Update #2: There is a good chance that if you post a decent logical rebuttal to any one of my proposed solutions that I will ignore it even if you are right. Educrats ignore valid evidence based studies every day, why should I be any different.

More Homework

Joanne Jacobs comments on the same homework article that I posted about the other day. While I normally agree with Joanne's views on education, on this subject I have to disagree. She mentions the highly successful KIPP Academies as an example of successful schools that assign lots of homework, but it is unrealistic to expect that level of commitment from the public education system at large. There does have to be a balance between family time, play, and education. I still believe that the best solution is to implement more effective teaching methods in the 8 hours that the school systems have with our children already.

My Motives...

I suppose it’s time for me to explain a little bit more about myself, and why as a non-educator I am so interested in education. I am a MSgt in the USAF and spent most of my career living in Europe (The Netherlands, England, German, Italy, and Belgium). Two of kids started out in Department of Defense schools, which were all in all excellent. Because of the tight knit overseas military community, the parents and the teachers had a great working relationship. I was literally floored when I was reassigned to the United States and saw the state of the school system, especially here in South Carolina. Because by nature I am inquisitive, I began to research the subject of education. The more I dug, the more shocked I became. I always knew intuitively that somehow my kids were being shortchanged, but it wasn’t until I began exploring the edublogosphere that I realized just how truly screwed up things were. Sure I am confident that my kids will succeed despite the system, but I think that not only my kids but the children of our nation deserve better. I truly believe that education is the solution to 90% of what ails this country. Why is it my German friend's 9 year olds spoke passable English and was learning basic algebra while my 5th grader was figuring out how to find out what 7 x 9 is on her fingers? Children are capable of learning, but it requires effort, time, and proven methods.