Wednesday, February 28, 2007

News 14 Carolina | 24 Hour Local News | Triangle | Schools reduce minority achievement gap

News 14 Carolina 24 Hour Local News Triangle Schools reduce minority achievement gap

Between the 2003-2004 school year and the 2004-2005 school year, Tommy's Road Elementary School lowered its achievement gap from 14.8 percent to 9.6 percent.
First of all they don't say which achievement gap they are talking about, but usually its reading. Sure enough the numbers matched the reading achievement gap for students for all grades who scored at least level III on the state reading test. I also found out some other information.

Between the 2004-2005 school year and 2005-2006 area, Tommy's Road Elementary School raised it's achievement gap from 9.6% to 16.6%

Check for yourself at the NC Dept of Education disaggregated data webstite. Select Wayne County school system, then select composite reading scores.

If you check out their school report card, then the numbers are even worse. The gap between blacks and whites passing BOTH math and science proficiency tests is 26.5%. I guess it is a lot better than the District achievement gap of 32.2% and the states achievement gap of 33.5%

Don't reporters ever investigate anymore?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Todays Kids

Right Wing Nation goes off on todays kids (and adults)

Students. Don't. Read.

When undergraduates don't understand why they can't use LOL! in a research paper, we have a serious problem.
That's what I have gotten every time I have caught a student cheating and talked to him about it. And I've noticed that in the last few years, students show no shame or embarrassment, no guilt, no remorse.
My grade was my responsibility, and my parents were not going to let me get away with foisting it off on somebody else.
Every student thinks the rules don't apply to him — just everybody else.
We're endlessly entertained by Jessica Simpson's acne, Britney Spears' wearing no panties in public, and the most recent idiotic comments by the airheaded morons in Hollywood.
Turn on almost any one of the so-called educational shows (either kids' shows or what passes for documentaries these days) and you are fed a string of those context-free soundbytes.
We need to reassert morality and ethics. We need to reassert personal responsibility and end this culture of endless victimization and entitlement. And we need to act before we commit cultural suicide.
Go read it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Need Help

I recently found out that I might be moving to Anchorage Alaska next august. The Anchorage school district has a pretty good school choice program, and one of the choices they have is Eagle Academy Charter School.

The school supposedly uses Direct Instruction, specifically the Spalding curriculum in english language arts, and Saxon math. They also have grade leveling (pc term for ability grouping), in which students are grouped for their core subjects.

I know we have lots of experience with Saxon math here, but does anyone know anything about Spalding?

I have until March 14th to submit my applications for my kids. I want as much information as possible.

I already know that they kick ass in their test scores, though the school has only been open since 2005. I think a large part of the score difference might be due to the students who enroll there. Alaska's profile of performance does show that they have pretty good scale score growth from year to year though.

The good news is that if I get the assignment, and my kids get in, I will have loads of things to blog about.

ms_teacher: A REACH/Decoding Lesson - What it looks like.

ms_teacher: A REACH/Decoding Lesson - What it looks like.

Ms Teacher has a post up describing a "di" lesson in her remedial classroom.

I was pretty impressed with how comprehensive the lessons are. One of the key points she made was how important it was to have proper ability group placement.

However, what I have found is that with the three or four students who were misplaced, they are struggling with words that all the other students have already learned. The dilemma then becomes do I "punish" the whole class by not awarding them their points, which is where their grade comes from?
One of the things I noticed about her lesson compared to the reading lessons my 1st grader gets, is how much less wasted time there is. In the lessons I witnessed, my daughters teacher seems to be winging everything. Also she has poor time management, because the lesson inevitably ends early with no planned activity or it runs late and has to be cut off.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sorority Hijinx

Education-ish related.

Check out Rachels Tavern for Too Fat, Too Dark, and Too Smart??

The national office of Delta Zeta Sorority was disappointed with its chapter at DePauw University, so they decided to come in and conduct a review, which resulted in them purging the sorority of all of the women of color and the overweight women.


Unfortunately, this story supports all of the worst stereotypes of fraternities and sororities–they’re bigoted, party animals, who don’t care about school.

You have to wonder what gets into people sometimes. You would think that the Sorority national office would have PR people.

Bet you they are going to hire a PR person now.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

RedKudu: Saturday Circular

RedKudu: Saturday Circular

I am an education blog surfing fool. It's actually pretty pitiful since I actually do have a real job which has nothing to do with education. I continually run across new blogs though, and recently came across RedKudu, an english teacher with an attitude in Texas.

Though I doubt that I get much traffic that hasn't read her, just in case I want to point y'all over there to check him/her out, especially her Saturday Circulars.

Also check out her post entitled "Teacher Makes Students Cry"

Last week, I began a Stanford Experiment-inspired activity with my seniors, who are reading "Lord of the Flies." It was my intent to introduce to them the concept of group mentality, and the effects of unchallenged rumor and unquestioned leadership - all leading (hopefully) to a greater understanding of the behavior of the boys on the island. Friday I assigned them a simple project, a pamphlet about survival skills which I am later going to use to pave the way to their major research projects next six weeks (it's undoubtedly artsy, but it will have far-reaching impact). Then I allowed them the period to read silently, and begin working on the project.

Near the end of class, I removed a small group of students I’d been observing who had worked consistently all period, took them out in the hall, and told them I wanted them to go back and tell their friends that I had told them they didn’t have to do the project. But I warned them I wasn’t going to tell the other students anything about it. They all willingly agreed to be a part of the plan. (Note, none of the other students had behaved badly, but some had been off-task for some portion of time, and some had turned secretly to other homework. I knew they would later pinpoint this as the reason they were excluded.)

I’d intended for them to wait until they were outside of class, but didn’t time it quite right. A few of them asked their friends quietly what had happened out there, and they were told. The tension (and rumor) rocketed around the room as I pretended to be completely unaware behind my desk. When the bell rang, there were some choice words for me muttered under breaths, which I pretended not to hear.
You will need to click over to read the rest of the story, but it was quite an experiment. It also a perfect example about how to challenge students minds, open them up to new ideas, and instill critical thinking skills. If only we had more teachers like RedKudu.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Reform Targeting

I posted this over in comments at From the Trenches of Public Education.

When I started researching education and entered the edublogging realm, I was a blank slate.

I believed in many of the standard talking points. Preschool will fix everything, all we need is more money, etc..., but was open minded in general.

My thoughts and opinions evolved (and still do) as I learned more.

I am now pretty much in the "drastic reform" camp, but I don't think I have ever been a big proponent of H.S. level reforms. I do like the idea of smaller schools, or at least schools within a school, since I think having stable relationships with teachers is a pretty good thing for students. I think there should be a bit more ability grouping, though with honors, college prep, and regular classes there is some. Having said that, I think that High Schools do a pretty decent job of teaching those who come to them on skill level. Basically for the top 50% to 95% of students, our High School program works relatively well.

It's the lower 50% that really needs educational reform, but by HS they have pretty much already been broken.

In the military we see all sorts of fads as well.

We had Total Quality Management for a while, now the latest fad is ATSO 21 (Six Sigma)... all adaptations of the latest business models out there. Like you, we as workers roll our eyes, try and take the best of the theories and await the next reform.

So I understand the resistance to school reform advocates.

I think a major problem for reform advocates has been an inability to separate the education system into component parts.

Different levels of education need different amounts and type of reform.
Perhaps it is the union mentality of teachers, where HS teachers react negatively to reform targeted at the elementary school level.

I still think there is something to the idea of enlisting HS teachers as allies in the push for K-5 reform.

Certain principles of "di" are going to be universal (the military uses a lot of elements of it teaching recruits), but its probably most critical at the early basic skills level to rely on scripted programs.

I think there probably is a critical mass point where scripted programs can give way to more flexibility in teaching freedom after kids have learned to read and compute at a certain level. It is probably at this point that kids really have been taught how to learn (such a cliche).
Certain concepts of "di" though are certainly worth incorporating into all levels of education. Things like breaking concepts down into components, ensuring mastery, reinforcement of concepts over a period of time, and ability grouping.

Secondary school teachers differ from elementary school teachers. They are usually (or should) have degrees in the content area they teach, more like college professors than elementary school teachers.

I suspect that utilizing DI and scripted programs, a school full of Junior College graduates could outperform our current elementary school programs.

(Cross posted)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Update on my kids and us

It's been a while since I update my regular reader (thank you Bob) on the progress of my kids.

1st grader: I had a meeting with her teacher last week to express my concern about her lack of decoding skills. Her teacher told me that she knew Skye struggled, but half of her class was even further behind. I did get her to guarantee me that she would be enrolled in the after school reading tutoring program starting next month. I think I scared her...

3rd grade girl: Christina has really improved in reading since the beginning of the year thanks to the reading tutoring program. She now completes reading worksheets that use to take her an hour in 15 minutes.

3rd grade boy: I sat in on his TAG pullout program last week for 15 minutes. 20 odd bright kids wasted the whole time coloring repeating patterns of shapes in the name of enrichment. Today, after he had finished his worksheet in math on odds, I managed to teach him factoring. He also impressed me by remembering how to reduce fractions, even though I had only showed him how to do it once before while we were driving to a pick up pizza. He needs a bit more practice to master it, but it shouldn't take long.

6th grader girl: She got an "A+" on her science project two weeks ago. She used pendulums with different weights to prove that gravity pulled equally on objects of different weights. She is definitely our little scientist.

Me. I am coasting through my online psychology class. It is only a Technical College, but it's amazing how easy the course is.

GF: Shannon is about to finish her 3rd to last nursing course. In August she will graduate, and then its the big bucks.

Us: I have put in for orders to Alaska. I will find out in a few weeks if I got the assignment. If I do, we will move sometime in August. It will give me a whole new state's education system to bash.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogging Frenzy

I have to admit, I am taking a small part of satisfaction at the blogging frenzy that I had a small part in starting off.

Dennis asked me if I knew of any teachers who had implemented DI.

It must of started him wondering, because he decided to ask his readers about it.

As I indicated earlier, it is hard to find anyone who is more critical of American education than KDerosa, and much of his criticism is centered around his belief that we are using the wrong teaching methods, especially at the elementary level. I would love to hear from any elementary school teachers who know more about Direct Instruction than I do. I'd especially like to hear from teachers who have used Direct Instruction after using other methods. I would also love to hear from teachers or administrators who know why so few elementary schools use this method. It is a mystery to me why I've heard so much about Direct Instruction from parents, like KDerosa and Rory, and so little about it from teachers.
After that it snowballed. Joanne wonders about the same thing as Dennis.

RedKudu notes that the education system is biased against DI. (I just discovered RedKudu, but it is an excellent blog).

This is how I was taught I should be suspicious of direct instruction styles, and why I believe many teachers may not be aware of what direct instruction is, especially if they're getting the same information I did. The teacher-centered classroom, I was told, is also sometimes called "direct instruction." Did the presenter have a grudge or some bias? Probably. Was the info misused, or misinterpreted at the meeting I attended? Possibly. But the school latched onto it, we were told to latch onto it, and two schools later, three grades higher, we're still being told this is the way to go even as grades slump, kids drop out, and the minimum skills expectations are lowered every year to make up for the achievement gap.
Liz over at I Speak of Dreams also wonders about DI.

Meanwhile, in the comments of Dennis and Joanne's original posts, debates take place, questions are asked, and everyone comes out a little bit smarter.

Some highlights from the Trenches:

The Guru KEdRosa says: "Here's my theory. The powers that be in education and schools of education are in ignore mode when it comes to DI. At first they tried criticising it and that didn't work so well because it has a large research base with thousands of students showing that it does work better than what the ed schools were peddling. So now they're resigned to just pretending it doesn't exist."

Amen Brother!

ElementaryHistoryTeacher notes that teachers secretly use "di" without permission.

Dennis starts to get pissed off: "After having done the work to earn a Masters a few years ago, and never hearing about Direct Instruction once during that process, while having some other stuff thrown at me that was pure crap, this makes me a little angry."

Ms. BlueBird notes the obvious: "So, if I'm to understand this correctly, for DI to work the class must be at the same level. Yet at the same time, ability grouping is frowned upon big time."

Ms Teacher from California Live Wire, finally acknowledges she is ultimately responsible for everything, and updates her readers on her experiences with DI.

Like a typical teacher she bemoans that it takes away from her creativity, but acknowledges:
So, overall I've been impressed with the growth I've seen in most of my students. Like I said before, some of them used to hate to read and now, they enjoy it. They understand what they are reading and are able to apply it. Much of my criticism has nothing to do with the program itself; rather it has to do with my District's reluctance to do what they promised to do.
Mean while over at Joannes:

Winston Smith says that his students are begging for explicit instruction.

Anna sums up the argument nicely.
I have used Reading Mastery, Engelman’s DI program for teaching reading. At first I did not like it because I did not enjoy teaching from a script. I became a convert when I saw how effectively it taught students how to read. I think sometimes we forget that things which are boring for teachers are exciting for little kids. It would have been more fun for me to work with storybooks and whole language, no question, but I had to remember that the lesson aim wasn’t to entertain me as a teacher — it was to teach students how to read.
Anna... if you read this... start blogging.

Larry Strauss thinks teachers should see themselves as artists. (Funny me. I thought teachers wanted to be considered professionals.)

Dave is all up on Larry Strauss and spouts the usual gobbly gook, and then manages to do the Vulcan mind meld on DI and Discovery Learning.
If DI includes all of rhese components and allows children to explore at times and tackle unstructured open-ended questions for which there is no clear blueprint for solution, then I applaud DI and I guess I’ve been using it all along. If ‘Discovery Learning’ includes all of these components, then I guess I’ve been using it all along and I applaud that too.
Larry seems to get a bit mixed up about what DI really is, but luckily Ken sets him straight.

Larry thanks Ken and asks some questions. Kens answers them.

Coincidentally, this blogosphere conversation happens at the same time as Zig Englemann releases the 5th chapter of his book on Project Follow Through. Zig describes how despite evidence to the contrary, the education establishment does everything in its power to maintain the status quo and repress DI. See D-EdReckoning for a review and summary.

Crossposted at my KTM II.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My first education policy proposal

Jenny D asks "how do you know if a teacher is really implementing DI, or any kind of instruction?"

Most states (if not all) have alternate teacher certification programs. Often they revolve around content knowledge (especially in math and science).

Perhaps private organizations, such as the National Institute for Direct Instruction should create their own certification programs in conjunction with a forward looking state. These schools would directly compete with education colleges and schools in certifying teachers. Once certified in providing direct instruction, these teachers would be 100% certified to go directly into teaching without further training.

Of course there are many limitations, including opposition by teachers unions and the education establishment. The newly certified teachers would also need to find positions in schools that supported their methodology.

If school choice (competition) is good for schools, why wouldn't it be good for the institutions that produce teachers?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Bomb or just Bombing?

Denver Post: Science-tech charter school a beacon to Texas reformers

One of Denver's highest-performing high schools will become a model for 35 new schools in Texas as they undertake a massive education reform project, administrators announced Wednesday.

The Denver School for Science and Technology, a charter school nestled in an affluent section of the Stapleton neighborhood, this summer will begin training teachers, principals and administrators from Texas about how the school pulls off such high test scores.

I can sum up the training in a few words: "Our secret to improving test scores is to get rid of the deadwood"

Yep... that's right. I decided to check out DSST so I went over to their website and then checked out their disaggregated CSAP data.

I downloaded their data in reading and math for 2005 and 2006 and compared the numbers between their 2005 9th graders and 2006 10th graders to see how much "real" improvement there was.

The first thing I noticed, was that the number or returning black students was dismal. In 2005 there were 51 black students in 9th grade. One year later, the number of black students in 10th grade was only 36. This is almost a 33% drop out rate. The only American Indian dropped out, there were 4 less white kids, though Hispanics gained 3 students. Number for Asians stayed the same. The net change was from 121 to 104 students. In total the class was 14% smaller from one year to the next. Now let's see if we can figure out just which students dropped out.

In 9th grade, 16 black kids scored unsatisfactory on the CSAP in math. 20 scored partially proficient, 14 proficient, and only 1 scored advanced. One year later, 6 scored unsatisfactory, 15 scored partially proficient, 15 scored proficient, and not a single black student scored advanced. It appears that the loss of most, if not all of the black students was from the unsatisfactory and partially proficient categories. Now I supposed its theoretically possible that the kids who dropped out were all proficient and advanced, and that the unsat and partially proficient kids improved, but... would you bet against it?

Among Hispanic and white kids, the numbers show us that the distribution of students scoring in various categories in math didn't change much. Though I did note that in every single category that they had data for, there were less kids scoring advanced than the year before.

The school did do a tiny bit better in reading, but the kids also started out a little better. In both 9th and 19th grade there was only one black kid in the whole class that scored unsatisfactory. It appears that the big drop of in numbers happened among the partially proficient and proficient students readers. While there were 3 more advanced readers among blacks, there was 7 and 11 less partially proficient and proficient readers. Once again, we can see that the school had a small improvement in reading ability, but that many of their lower performing students likely dropped out. There were minor improvements among whites and Hispanics as far as score distribution goes.

Overall it appears that the school does a decent job of improving the reading ability of students, though at the cost of getting rid of lower performing kids.

Once again we learn that percentages and stats can hide the truth. There are things to admire at this school. They put a premium on values, they provided a safe enviroment, but academically I suspect they are no better than the average middle class school at accelerating the performance of their students. But like other public schools, it appears they fail at teaching and retaining low performing minority students.

So Texans, enjoy your trip to Denver. You might not learn anything that you don't know already, but at least you will escape the Texas heat for a while.

Hat Tip: Joanne Jacobs

Update: I checked out High Tech High in San Diego. California's results are harder to parse, especially since the school switched from Integrated Math to a standard Algebra I, Geometery, Algebra II schedule, but from 9th grade 2004 to 11 grade 2005, the number of black students in each sequential class dropped from 22 students to 13.

In 2006, not a single black student scored proficient or advanced in math. Only 29% of white students did. Silly me for thinking that "High Tech" would mean math proficiency. It probably explains why they switched their math curriculum.

Both High Tech High and DSST emphasize "inquiry" and "project based" learning. It must be so nice to have a digital portfolio of your students work to remember them by after they drop out.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What influence does blogging have on education policy, if any?

Text Savvy notes the general failure of education research to influence education policy. He comes to this conclusion based on the many responses to this question over at The Spencer Foundation, which he found via Chris Correa.

I have to say I agree with him. I suspect that teaching in classrooms today looks much the same as it did 100 years ago.

His comment though provoked another thought in my head. Though blogging is a relatively new phenomena, it has had an enormous influence on certain aspects of society, especially politics. Major corporations and politicians now routinely hire bloggers and attempt to influence the blogosphere.

My question is: What influence does (or will) education blogging have on education policy, if any?

I have several thoughts on the matter, but I would like to see what the edublogosphere has to say about it first.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Outrage of Project Follow Through - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is out... yeah! I am not going to bother analyzing it, because others are much more adept at that than I am, but I do want to say one thing. This chapter literally made me shake with anger.

One of the recurring themes in the book, was how much the school establishment worked against the implementation of the Direct Instruction model. I found myself cussing the various antagonists out under my breath as I was reading. The stupidity of some of the characters is amazing.

There was one bright spot in the chapter though. In a fairly long and very descriptive passage, Zig describes a well run kindergarten class room. Here is a teaser:

As soon as the bell rings, the teacher says, “Everybody, you can finish your worksheet later. It’s time for our morning warm-up. So get those thinking engines ready to go. The blue group is ready ... so is the yellow group.”

The aides are positioned on each side of the room. The teacher walks to the chalkboard. “We’re going to start with the days of the week. Tell me what day it is today ... Get ready.”

The teacher claps. As she does, nearly all of the children respond, “Tuesday.”

The story is much more involved, but illustrates how the teacher and the aids work together, like a well oiled machine. It's amazing how much attention to detail is given to every aspect of the learning environment.

As I read the passage, I couldn't help to get a little depressed as I thought about all the trouble my bright 1st grader is having reading, yet here is a story about poor kindergartners from disadvantaged homes who were performing above the level my daughter is now. It's enough to piss you off.

(cross posted at KTM)

School of the Future Luvin'

School of the Future preparing students for what’s to come

Naiomi Dillon of the American School Board Journal is drinking the SOF cool aid.

As with work, the 170 freshmen students
(most of whom hail from lower-income
backgrounds) craft and update their
schedules on a daily basis and frequently
take work home, conducting research or
creating presentations on laptops assigned
to each of them. Instruction is wholly
project based, forcing students to learn
how to collaborate, listen, plan, think critically,
and communicate—all skills considered
essential in the 21st century.
There is also some talk about Microsoft's Education Competency Wheel, which from the tone of the article is the next best invention since... well the wheel.

Seems to me that some people think that all our education system needs to do is to teach kids how to make powerpoint presentations. Content is just a detail.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Students Design New Uniform for School of the Future Students Design New Uniform for School of the Future

Its been a while since we have made fun of talked about the School of the Future.

It's students have been busy... you know... learning and designing their school uniforms.
I do have to admit, its pretty fricking cool. Of course what's cool today is geeky tomorrow. Maybe we should of got these kids to design our new hideous Airman Battle Uniform.

Instruction versus Exploration

Instruction versus exploration in science learning

I came across this article on the APA website.

This question may be answered by David Klahr, PhD, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and Milena Nigam, a research associate at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Biomedical Informatics. They have new evidence that "direct instruction"--explicit teaching about how to design unconfounded experiments--most effectively helps elementary school students transfer their mastery of this important aspect of the scientific method from one experiment to another.


Klahr saw three main reasons to challenge discovery learning. First, most of what students, teachers and scientists know about science was taught, not discovered, he says. Second, teacher-centered methods (in which teachers actively teach, as opposed to observe or facilitate) for direct instruction have been very effective for procedures that are typically harder for students to discover on their own, such as algebra and computer programming. Third, he adds, only vague theory backed the predicted superiority of discovery methods--and what there is clashes with data on learning and memory. For example, discovery learning can include mixed or missing feedback, encoding errors, causal misattributions and more, which could actually cause frustration and set a learner back, says Klahr.

Yet discovery learning has persisted, he says, partly because of a lingering notion that direct instruction would not only be ineffective in the short run, but also damaging in the long run. Piaget thought interfering with discovery blocked complete understanding. More recent cognitive research, says Klahr, shows that "this is just plain wrong."

Study after study disproves the current "inquiry" approach to education, yet if you mention direct instruction among a significant portion educators you might as well just call yourself a martian.

(cross posted at KTM part deux)