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.