Sunday, November 26, 2006

Right Wing Nation#comments

Right Wing Nation#: Not Enough Homework

First, let me say I am one of those whining parents:

As far as I know, every university defines a college credit as one hour of class and two hours of outside work a week. Most classes are three-credit classes (yes, there are a few one- and two-credit courses in the catalog, but very few). By the university definition, then, a three-credit course is three hours of class and six hours of out of class work a week. In order to be full-time, a student must take at least 12 credits per semester — that would be a minimum of 12 hours of classes and 24 hours of out of class work per week.

Which means that a full time college student should be actively doing school stuff for 36 hours a week.
My 16 year old has 4 90 minute classes a day, 5 days a week. She is in class for about 30 hours. She easily has about 2 hours of homework a night. So 30 + 10 = 40 hours of homework.
My two 3rd graders and my 1st grader have 6 hours of instruction a day plus 1 hour of homework a night. At age 8 they have 35 hours of class work, not counting at home reading.
College kids have it easy.
As you mentioned, a big problem is the quality of homework that is required. To much of it, especially at the elementary school level, requires a parent to actively participate and teach to make up for the lack of instruction in the classroom. This is great if you have only one child, but for those of us with more... then after school is hell.
The amount of homework assigned at the elementary school level should be progressive, and not start until around 3rd grade. Then there should be only enough homework to reinforce what is taught at the school.
At the Middle and HS level, I really have no problems with the amount of homework given. By this time, students should be self-sufficient. I also agree that students should be taught the value of hard work.

What an Idiot

Student tapes teacher proselytizing in class

Via Joanne

On Sept. 14 -- the fourth day of class -- Paszkiewicz is on tape saying, "He (God) did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sin on his own body, suffered your pains for you and he's saying, 'Please accept me, believe me.'"

He adds, according to the tapes: "If you reject that, you belong in hell. The outcome is your prerogative. But the way I see it, God himself sent his only son to die for David Paszkiewicz on that cross ... And if you reject that, then it really is to hell with you."

Paszkiewicz didn't limit his religious observations to personal salvation, according to the tapes.

Paszkiewicz shot down the theories of evolution and the "Big Bang" in favor of creationism. He also told his class that dinosaurs were on Noah's ark, LaClair said.
And you wonder why American students fair so poorly when compared against other nations?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Swarm of the College Super-Applicants -- New York Magazine

The Swarm of the College Super-Applicants -- New York Magazine

I have read all the stories about what it takes to get into a top-notch college, but this article really puts it into perspective.

Hmmm... I wonder if I could get into Harvard?

Rory H.

Central Carolina Technical College, Sumter
GPA: 3.8
SAT: probably somewhere around 2000 if I studied for several months.
AP scores: Whats AP?

Academic honors: Presidents Honor List for Part Time Students. Honor Graduate in Track Vehicle Mechanic School, US Army 1988.

Extracurricular activities: Currently raising six children from the ages of 8 months to 16 years old. Frequent visits to Jails, Doctors Office's, First Sergeants office, Hospitals, and Public Schools. Stationed for 12 years in Europe with the United States Air Force. Able to order beer in seven different languages. Been drunk in over 50 cities in 9 nations, on 3 different continents and four islands. Spades champion of Switzerland, 2001. Amateur blogger on eduction, despite no practical knowledge or experience. Acting as surrogate father figure to the 23 young Airmen I supervise.

Sports: Huge USC Trojan Fan. Family tag champion. Undefeated kid tickler and wrestler.

Applying to: Who ever will take me.

My chances: Slim to none.
Maybe one day colleges will realize that diversity means more than supporting different charities. Maybe I should tell my kids to just go ahead and apply to community college right now, because they obviously have one thing working against them: They are human and not cookie cutter super achieving academic clones.

Monday, November 20, 2006

D-Ed Reckoning: NYT perplexed over achievement gap

D-Ed Reckoning: NYT perplexed over achievement gap

The edublogosphere is buzzing over the latest article on the achievement gap at the NY Times. So far only D-Ed Reckoning has been brave enough to address the root of the problem.

The achievement gap mirrors the IQ gap. Of IQ gaps we cannot speak amongst polite company, such as those that read still read the NYT.

That's the elephant in the room.
Of course educators can't speak about the IQ gap, because the conversation inevitably leads to the Nature vs. Nurture debate.

Instead, education policy makers have created the "achievement gap" which is basically an arbitrary pass fail line drawn in the sand... draw the line low enough and the gap magically vanishes. Thankfully, we have the NAEP to help keep all the states honest, otherwise states could easily game the system.

Of course, even if the achievement gap is solved, it sill won't fix today's inequities. There are only a finite amount of college positions available, and success is all about higher education today. Even if everyone passed some arbitrary reading and math test, Universities are still only going to take the top performers. Of course, unless the IQ gap has been eliminated, historically low performing groups will still be under represented (especially considering the recent bans on affirmative action).

The inevitable reaction will be for educators to once again raise the standard to be considered "passing" causing another achievement gap. I suppose this might sound a little pessimistic and cynical of me, but hey its Monday morning.

Educators and policy makers need to come up with a realist and pragmatic approach to improving education. Instead of focusing on improving gaps between different groups, educators should be concentrating on ensuring that all students are taught to the highest standards that they are capable of being taught too. While we might never be able to fix the IQ gap in the United States, we need to ensure that any kid with the drive and the capability to excel is provided opportunities to do so. The problem is that there are bright driven poor/minority kids out there that are unable to live up to there full potential because they suffer in an education system that doesn't teach them the basics, doesn't provide scientifically based curriculums, and doesn't provide a safe environment.

Ok... Sermon over. Get back to work.

P.S. Did anyone else catch this in the NY Times article:

Standard & Poors has sifted test data from 16,000 schools in 18 states, identifying 718 schools making significant progress toward the national goal.

They are the classic diamonds in the rough, said Paul Gazzerro, director of analytics at Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services. But in general, schools are not closing achievement gaps.

One of the exceptions, the unit said, is Hoover Middle School in Lakewood, Calif., a community in Los Angeles County where the aircraft manufacturing industry has been hit by job losses. The school has raised Hispanic scores so much that in the spring of 2005 Hispanic students outperformed whites, said the principal, Michael L. Troyer. He said the progress resulted from focused instruction, frequent diagnostic testing and several tutoring programs.
I suppose the Hispanic - White achievement gap is hard to accurately measure because Hispanic is an ethnic designation, not a racial one. I checked out the scores and even though Hoover Middle appeared to eliminate the one gap, there are still big gaps between other groups.

Hispanics, whites, and Pacific Islanders all appeared to be performing at approximately the same level. AfAmericansricans lag way behind, and Asian and Filipinos's are excelling. Basically, this information tells us nothing without knowing the economic and educational background of all the various groups.

Why is it after all these years, no one can ever point to one school that has eliminated its achievement gap.

My Absence

Sorry for my week off blogging.

Last weekend we discovered my 16 year old niece was "cutting". We confronted her about it which led to some major drama and a trip to the emergency room.

I spent last week dealing with councelors, pyschiatrists, and insurance companies.

A warning to parents of adolescents. Cutting is real, please be on the look out for the signs. It is a sign of much bigger problems.

The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO - Edgar Simpson: Changing how we teach math

The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO - Edgar Simpson: Changing how we teach math

Mr Simpson has been drinking from the educrat Kool-Aid. Some background.

What Lankford, now in his eighth year as superintendent of Webb City Schools, did instinctively has become a focal debate in public education. There is an ongoing shift from teaching math by rote, as in mesmerizing tables and formulas, to trying to impart concepts.

This change, controversial and by no means settled, spilled over into tears from an educator during an emotion-filled meeting last week in Seneca. The district introduced a reformed math program into its elementary schools in 2003.

The issue goes by a variety of names, "reform math," "Chicago Math," "Fuzzy Math" and its commercial moniker, "Everyday Math." The concept was conceived and developed in the early 1980s by a team of academics at the University of Chicago and is now peddled by a division of McGraw-Hill.

Mr. Simpson though not explicitly stating so, obviously is pulling for the so called "reform math". He goes to offer this argument.

When Chicago University researchers dug into the problem, they concluded the fundamental issue was the way students were being taught - by memorizing facts and formulas, rather than being forced to understand and apply concepts. The difference is an auto mechanic knowing how to change the spark plugs in an engine, and knowing what the spark plugs do and what happens when they don't work.
Lets take a moment to think about this. How many people out there would take your car to a mechanic who doesn't know how to change spark clubs. I don't care how much he can spout off about the theory of internal combustion engines, if he can't turn a wrench then I am taking my car elsewhere.

The other problem with this analogy is that the purpose of math instruction in school, is not to teach students to be theoretical mathematicians, but to be mathematically literate. A more apt comparison, using the spark plug analogy above, is that we are teaching our students to be competent car owners that can perform routine maintenance of their car. What we as car operators need to know is how to change tires if we have a flat, change spark plugs and oil during routine intervals, and know when to take the car into a professional.

At the end Mr. Simpson says:

She notes that the way public education had been teaching mathematics was not keeping Seneca, Missouri or the nation competitive with the rest of the world. Doing nothing is not an option.

She's right. The core reason we want to be competitive, and we should not try to pretend it is anything else, is jobs. Many employers, primarily manufacturing and technology, say some workers coming to them from public high schools and even colleges are not good at math. They know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but not how to think on the fly, to solve problems that require visualizing a logical sequence and then making changes to achieve the desired end.
Once again, Mr. Simpson is missing the point. It does no good to be able to "think on the fly" if you can't perform the basic math operations. California learned its lessons the hard way, but it looks like Seneca is going to have to repeat the same mistakes all over again.

Saturday, November 11, 2006



Loni a homeschooling mom of nine kids is going down a treacherous path.

We bought some cheap multiplication math books, and I taped a sheet of paper at the front of each, with tricks, poems, and cartoons of ways to get them to remember these!

I found most of these at Multiplication.Com. One of my favorites is learning the 9's table:

The NINE multiplication fastest is the one less = nine method
Subtract one from the number you are multiplying by. 9 x 5 (One less than 5 is 4)
The first number in the answer is 4. The two numbers that make up the answer will equal 9. So 4 + __ = 9 (5)
The last number in the answer is 5

9 x 5 = 45
One less than 5 is 4 (45)
The answer adds up to nine. 4 + 5 =9
Tricks like this frustrate me to no end. The intentions are well meaning, but the results can be horrible.

My 6th grader was able to get through 3rd grade by using multiplication table tricks like this, but the problem is that she relied to much on them. Multiplication tables should be learned to mastery, and here is why:

Multi-digit multiplication: When performing problems such as 456 x 35, knowing your multiplication facts to mastery reduces your reliance on working memory, which in turn allows you to use your working memory to perform the carrying and adding functions in the standard algorithms. The more things you have to juggle in your working memory, the more likely you are to forget a step and end up with a mistake in a several step problem.

Division: Not only should you know that 6 x 7 = 42, but if given the number 42, you should be able to recall that its the same as "6 x 7". Unfortunately the 9's trick that is used above doesn't work backwards. If given the problem 54 divided by 9, you can not easily reverse the procedure. The problem becomes even worse if you have a problem like 56 divided by 9.

Factoring: Factoring is a key component to algebra. Factoring relies on being able to quickly recognizing multiplication facts and breaking the number down into smaller products. Once again the tricks do no work backwards.

If Loni really wants to help her kids then she will skip the shortcuts and drill her kids over and over till they can spit the facts out like they can their names.

At our house, we use flash cards. Every child in our house is tested on their multiplication tables at least once a day. We also practice doing reverse multiplication tables. The kids are shown the answer, and have to spit out all the multiplication facts that make up that number.

Last year our 6th grader had to get tutoring for her math. Since then I have re-taught her tables, and on her last interim report in math, she was getting a 91.

Don't be fooled people, some knowledge needs to be committed to memory, and hard work is required.

Update: Rightwingprof has corrected me and pointed out that the trick does work backwards... but a child would have to know all the multiples of 9's to know when to use it, and if they did... then they probably wouldn't need to.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


At my 1st graders school, they have a cute little tradition. On fridays, over the loudspeaker, they play the "Friday" song and everyone sings along. It goes like this.

Friday... Friday...

Friday is my favorite day...

Ok... its very simple, but its the cutest thing in the world to see all the Kindergarden and 1st graders sing it at the top of their lungs.

At my 6th graders middle school, friday was "Serendipity Day". At noon time any kid that was passing all his/her classes got to play games, every one else had extra tutoring in their weakess subjects. My daughter tells me its a big deal.

I have heard of Honors day's where kids on the Honor Roll get a field trip or a pizza party, but I liked the idea that they gave a reward to all the other hard working kids who can't quite make the Honor Roll.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Income doesn't explain testing gap - Greensboro, North Carolina: News - Education: Income doesn't explain testing gap

GREENSBORO — Guilford County's poorest white students on average scored higher on the SAT this year than the wealthiest black students, school board members learned Monday.

Deena Hayes, a member of the Guilford County Board of Education, said the data confirms her belief that the achievement gap in the district is not solely about economics.

A study conducted by the school district showed that white students coming from a household earning less than $20,000 a year scored about 40 points higher on the math and reading sections of the SAT than black students whose households earned more than $70,000 a year.
I have to admit that this surprised me. I am well aware of the persistance of the achievement gap and the arguments over nurture and nature, but this is really depressing. I had expected that achievement would be more tied to SES than to race.

I am sure that many people will blame it on racism, but I am sceptical that this alone could account for everything. Unfortunately I think that the key to improving black academic performance is going to creating a widespread culture of educational achievement in black culture. This is going to be a slow process that can probably only be fixed over generations.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Symbol of hope vs the Hawthorne Effect

Via Joanne Jacobs: Philadelphia Inquirer 10/30/2006 Symbol of hope:

An elementary school in the heart of North Philadelphia has grabbed the national spotlight for dramatically improving its test scores.

The initial jumps were so large the Philadelphia school district verified them by having some students retake the tests.

Over four years, the number of fifth graders scoring at the highest level - advanced - soared from 1.2 percent in math and reading to 42.1 percent in math and 29.8 percent in reading.
I double checked their results and overall they are amazing, but I did notice one thing.

In reading their results improved dramatically from a 12.2% proficiency rate in 2002 to a 72.5% in 2005, but all of the sudden in 2006 they dropped back down to a 47.5%. The same pattern is reflected in math scores.

I have noted this trend in several benchmark schools that I have looked up over my brief blogging career. Could it be that the initial rises in performance are a result of the "Hawthorne effect", and that once a system becomes established there is a leveling out of performance? Unfortunately the article doesn't mention the drop off at all. Perhaps its a statistical blip, maybe there were some changes not mentioned in the article, but its something that I might keep an eye out for in the future.

Update: I found a similar but not quite as dramatic drop off in scores at Amistad Academy of Achievement First.

2006 scores weren't available, but there was a drop off in 2005 scores from 2004 after several years of improvements.

Are there any studies that look at whether this is a common phenomenon?

Towson angles to draw males -

Towson angles to draw males -

The university's decision to tinker with its admission standards to help men comes amid growing national concern about declining enrollment of males, who make up only 42 percent of the U.S. college population. They are just 40 percent of Towson's student body.

The low grades/high scores formula allows the school to draw from a group that is mostly men, without actually using gender as a criterion. "We made a determination two years ago, because this was a group with a large number of males, that it would help us to continue to bring males into the university," said Deborah Leather, Towson's associate provost.
Ok... I should be against this, but I was one of those H.S. graudates that would of benefited from this.

I am no lawyer, but as long as the admission criteria is not based on race, sex, national origin, bla, bla, bla... I see no problem.

It is my understanding that some schools use a reverse policy and base their admissions on GPA and don't even consider SAT scores.

"Pee-Chee" Folder

So tonight I am watching VH1 Hits of the 80's count down and I had a total flashback to High School (Class of '88). Back then, before fuzzy math, new math, and new-new math everyone had "Pee-Chee" folders. My gf has no idea what I am talking about, but it was truly part of my schooling experience. Alas, a quick google told me that "Pee_Chee" folders are no longer being made. Too bad, I would love to get my hands on some.