Thursday, May 31, 2007

Screw it

I hereby renounce all attempts to reform the American education system. Let all the other kids fail for all I care, it will just make it that much easier for my kids to stand out. Sure I will have to spend numerous hours a week supplementing their education, but if it helps my kids become successful, then it's worth it.

So go enroll your kids in progressive, project based schools with low expectations, and let them take watered-down classes. Forget about learning how to do standard algorithms, buy your kids a calculator. Some of them might succeed despite the schools, but enough will fail that my kids will have a better chance of rising to the top.

Thank you for your assistance.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Abbot and Costello Invent Everyday Math

Thats right... I have a time machine... and you can watch it here.

Via Mindless Math Mutterings, hat tip to Instructivist.

NCGA: No Child Gets Ahead

Promising miracles at Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs, points to an article in Education Next that mentioned one of my pet peeves, academic acceleration, or the lack of it in our schools.

"accelerating instruction for the 2 percent of students capable of benefiting from it."
BS... I think that at least 15 to 20% of students would benefit from academic acceleration. Walk into any middle class classroom in this country and there will be at least that many students who are bored and ready to move on while the teacher remediates the rest of the class.

Besides, there is no true acceleration in this country. Those who would point to things like 7th and 8th grade algebra as acceleration are wrong... that is advancement, not acceleration. It still takes 3 years for these kids to get to Calculus, just like it would take 3 years for a student who started Algebra I in 10th grade.

True acceleration would have students progress through a years worth of study in say 6 - 9 months. If acceleration was done properly, there would be a cumulative effect; each year accelerated students would be further and further ahead of their peers in standard paced classes.

I also ran across this article JS ONLINE: Law lacks direction for gifted students pointing out that Gifted Education is haphazard in this country.

What the law doesn't mandate is how students such as Adam will be educated - even though state legislators have identified programming for students with gifts and talents as one of 20 essential components of public education. The result? A mixed bag of approaches for how Wisconsin students identified as gifted are educated. Some are taught in regular classes with alternative activities to help speed them through lessons. Others are pulled out of class for about an hour a week of special instruction. Some may find a spot in a magnet program with other gifted students. And others get no special instruction at all.
While I am a supporter of No Child Left Behind and its high expectations and accountability requirements, I can't help but wonder if it should also be referred to as the No Child Gets Ahead.

I am starting to think that Gifted and Talented programs should just be eliminated in our schools. If schools truly served the needs of all students, there would be no need for "named" programs, just high quality education that best serves all students reguardless of abilities.

p.s. I accidently posted this here at KTM, I forgot to change the dropdown box on the blogger window, sorry.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Enrichment vs Acceleration

Enrichment is putting shiny rims and a lot of chrome on a car.

Acceleration is souping up the engine.

One looks good, one performs better.

Ideally you would have enough money and time to do both, but if not... it depends on whether you want to win a race or just look good cruising down the street.

Monday, May 21, 2007

30 Minutes a Week

For 30 minutes a week, my 3rd graders go to computer lab and use a PEARSONS technology self-pace instructional program.

In 8 hours and 52 minutes of computer time my son improved his math skills exactly .48 of a grade level to a 4.82 grade level using Pearsons Educational Technologies "Math Concepts and Skills"

My daughter improved her reading skills .56 of a grade level in the same amount of time.

This was all done in the last 18 weeks.

I can honestly say that my sons TAG class did nothing more than teach him 40 Latin root words. Actually this is being to generous, he learned the words at home, they just gave him them in his TAG class.

He did do some really cool paintings of interlocking puzzle shapes.

Just in case you think that the computer program just recorded classroom progress, none of the math concepts mastered were covered in the 3rd grade curriculum.

I don't care what the studies say about educational software, at least it doesn't hold students back.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Anchorage Gifted Program: It gets worse!!!

TAMEA ISHAM -- Home Page

Last post, I noted the weak math standards in the Anchorage school district. Today, I came across the homepage for the gifted instructor for the schools that my kids will attend.

Here is what I have to look forward to if one of my kids qualify for the gifted program:

Our first Unit is "New Atlantis", a comprehensive study of the ocean's problems, such as pollution, overfishing, whale and shark eradication, etc.. Students will be working in groups as they try to come up with answers to these important problems. Students will also be building submersibles and in cooperative groups will construct an underwater sea station. The unit will conclude with a parent presentation.
I know the kids are gifted, but solving the oceans problems... wow... these kids must be very advanced! I am so glad they aren't going to waste any time teaching them math, language arts, or history.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A little depressing

As many of you know, we are moving to Anchorage in August. I was a little depressed to learn that Anchorage's 4th grade math standards are a little weak compared with South Carolina's.

From the Anchorage A Parent's Guide : Fourth - Sixth Grade

4th Grade math

• memorize multiplication/division
facts to a product of 100.
From the South Carolina 3rd grade math curriculum standards

1. Recall multiplication and division facts
through 9.
Oh well, I guess the supplementing of my kids education will continue.

p.s. what is the purpose of the last week of school? It's not like the students learn anything.

Teacher fired because of kids' failures Teacher fired because of kids' failures

A teacher was fired because parents, her principal and the school board didn't like her classes pass rate. She argues that the school was trying to get her to lower her standards. It was pointed out to her that her passing rate was lower than the rest of the math departments.

Two things could be happening here. Either she isn't teaching up to the rest of the departments standards, or the rest of the department has low standards.

Kevil wrote school board members this final statement: "I refuse to compromise my integrity because of an uninformed parent, a weak administration and a district that turns a blind eye."

Keller Superintendent James Veiteinheimer told me his solution: "Teach them well. That's the way, I think, you get students to pass. You don't add points or add grades. You don't fake anybody out."
I think it should be pretty easy to figure out if she was too tough, or the school just wanted to lower standardsto cave to the unhappy parents. Just perform an analysis of the students grades to their standardized test scores, for her and the whole math department. If the performance matches the grades, then she wins... if not then the school does.

My money is on her.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Funniest Blog Post This Week

The Quick and the Ed

Kevin Carey over at the Quick and the Ed points out that the recent Washington Post story on Washington D.C. Mayor Fenty's school reform plan. It seems like the guy who drafted the plan, copied entire sections wholesale from Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

I know what your saying. Wow, a struggling school copied ideas from a more successful school district. Oh the horror.

Making fun of the Posts coverage of the story, and their attempt to point out that the two districts are different, Kevin had this to say (with a wee bit of sarcasm)

Intensive reading and math instruction in middle school, enhanced teacher recruitment, more focus on customer service to parents--while those wild, crazy notions might work in an urban / suburban district of 130,000 student in North Carolina, they obviously have no place whatsoever in an urban district of 57,000 students in DC. In fact, it's well-known within the research community that there's a point between 57,000 and 130,000--I believe the exact number is 94,583--where hiring better teachers and providing better math and reading instruction to at-risk students simply doesn't work anymore. You can look it up.
Go read the whole thing. It made me laugh out loud.

More Reading First Scandal

Over the coming days there will be a few articles about Senator Kennedy's latest report on the Conflict of Interest in the Reading First Program.

To be fair Senator Kennedy offers a great recommendation for the future:

enact changes in the current law governing conflict of interest controls at the Department.
But I just wanted to make two points. No where in the report does it mention anything about the reading programs being ineffective, and as the report says:
Presently, no federal law requires Department contractors, subcontractors, and consultants to be vetted for bias, conflicts of interest or impartiality.
In other words, the scandal is about poor implementation of the program, and not about people breaking the law. Of course as we know, despite these conflicts of interest, the program has been a great success for our countries disadvantaged students.

Lets improve the program, but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Are you or your kids a Christine, Alex, Jessica, or Kevin.

From the Trenches of Public Ed.: A tale of four students

Christine is a girl in one of my American History classes. Although she didn't begin the year looking like she would be one of the top students in the sophomore class, there were no indications that she'd have any trouble in my class. When she took the quizzes for my reading assignments, it was clear that she had reasonably good comprehension, but she was a little inconsistent. At about the mid-point of the first quarter, she began to do the assignments less and less, and by the end of the quarter, she wasn't doing any of them at all.
Then there is Alex. Alex is a bright young man, and he also began the year doing reasonably well in my class. But one day in October, Alex was absent. Then he was absent again. Then again...and again...and again...and again.

Social studies isn't easy for Jessica, and like Christine, she failed the first quarter. Unlike Christine, her parents were all over her as a result. Jessica does not have great reading comprehension, but I have a note-taking system that the kids can use to guarantee themselves decent scores on the reading quizzes. Jessica began to do those regularly, earned a C the second quarter, and in doing so managed to pass the first semester.
Kevin is in class every day. He was a captain on our school's hockey team this year, and in January he got to the point where he could barely skate because he was suffering from a painful bulging disc. His coaches and his parents finally forced him to take a two weeks off from the sport, because he would never have done it himself. He did miss one day of school to see a doctor, but he was back in class the next day. It was too painful for him to sit, so he would come into class early, go to my cabinets, dig out about 15 books from my first semester Economics class, stack them on top of a desk, put his notebook on them, and take notes in a standing position. Kevin did that in all of his classes for about a month-and-a-half.
I was an Alex, I am ashamed to say. Unfortunately my parents were natural hardworking students, and it never occurred to them that I might be lying about attending school or doing my homework.

Today my whole parenting style revolves around ensuring my kids don't get away with what I did. Trust but verify is my motto.

Go read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

SRA/McGraw-Hill Plays Both Sides!

SRA/McGraw-Hill Announces New Research-Based Elementary Reading & Language Arts Program: Imagine It!

"The new core Pre-K-6 reading and language arts curriculum from leading elementary educational publisher SRA/McGraw-Hill gives teachers everything needed to inform instruction and reach all students."
SRA, the same people who distribute Direct Instruction, now have a new curriculum.

"SRA's Imagine It! helps students develop the skills to think and investigate the answers to their own questions. The Concept/Question Board is used throughout each unit to keep students exploring and finding new dimensions to the unit theme. The strong Inquiry strand contains built-in tools in every unit that promote curiosity, investigation, and higher-order thinking. Each unit begins with student-led discussions that prompt questions and areas of investigation about the unit theme."
It seems like SRA wants to go after the "inquiry" crowd. I know SRA is in the business to make money, but doesn't it seem like they are sort of like arms dealers who sell weapons to both the rebels and the government that they are fighting?

I mean after all, on the same website that they are promoting a program that uses a "strong Inquiry strand", they also have this brochure (pdf), that states:

Before creating any Direct Instruction program, the authors carefully analyze the skills and strategies that must be taught. Every part of a Direct Instruction program is based upon solid research on how children learn and is validated in classrooms. The programs are written by the Direct Instruction authors to:
• Present tasks clearly in a way that allows students to understand concepts the first time they are introduced
• Present new material in small increments to help students achieve mastery
• Select examples and put them in a logical sequence
• Provide opportunities for guided practice and cumulative review
• Incorporate continuous assessment and management
Now of course, perhaps Imagine It!, is nothing more than a scientifically based program dressed up to satisfy all "whole language" and "Inquiry Learning" crowd, but it certainly confused me.

Perhaps they are banking on the pro-DI crowd getting booted due to the Reading First scandal, figured they would be replaced with a more "progressive" leaning crew, and had to come up with a different program to make money.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops - New York Times

Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops - New York Times

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. — The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).
“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.
I am so underpaid... I could of predicted this several years ago and saved the district half a million dollars for each of the last few years. The people who think up these ideas have obviously never seen a real life teenager at a real life computer... talk about tuning out.

Computers are meant to increase critical thinking skills... yeah right. I will leave you with this last quote from the article.
In the school library, an 11th-grade history class was working on research papers. Many carried laptops in their hands or in backpacks even as their teacher, Tom McCarthy, encouraged them not to overlook books, newspapers and academic journals.

The art of thinking is being lost,” he said. “Because people can type in a word and find a source and think that’s the be all end all.”

Thursday, May 03, 2007

M.I.T. Dean Who Resigned Has a Degree After All

M.I.T. Dean Who Resigned Has a Degree After All - New York Times

In an odd twist to an already strange story, Marilee Jones, the former admissions dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who resigned last week after admitting that she had lied about her academic credentials, turns out to have a bachelor’s degree, but not from the institutions she had named on her résumé.

Instead, M.I.T. officials said, Ms. Jones earned a B.A. in biology at the College of Saint Rose, an independent college in Albany, where she grew up. Officials at the College of Saint Rose confirmed that they had awarded a bachelor’s degree to a Marilee Jones in 1973, when Ms. Jones would have been 21.
Well crap! There goes my theory about non-college graduates being able to succeed at academic jobs. I concede that Ms. Jones is basically an idiot and deserved to be fired.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Teacher Merit Pay Plan

It seems like every other week there is a new teacher pay reform proposal published, so not wanting to be left out, I figured I would offer my own ideas.

I propose a system roughly modeled on the Air Force promotion system.

Levels: There would be several levels of teachers, and within each level there would be steps based on years of service. Each level of teacher would have added responsibility... for example you might have novice teacher, teacher, teacher mentor, teacher supervisor, and master teacher. Within each level, there would be years of service raises.

Promotion: Promotion between levels would be based on a combination of value added scores (75%) and personnel ratings (25%).

Value Added Rating: The key to the value added scores part of the rating system would be to base it on a 3 year average of scores. This would serve to mitigate the effects of a "good" or "bad" group of students, and also take into account consistency over an extended period of time. I also think that weighting more recent years slightly would reward improving teachers, but a balance would have to be struck.

Personnel Ratings: Since a large part of my program would be to encourage high performing and experienced teachers to mentor newer teachers, I would create a rubric that not only took into account teacher mechanics like control of classroom, organization, use of time, etc..., but that also took into account more subjective measures like mentoring, teamwork, and leadership. To ensure integrity, I would propose that the rating score would have to have concurrence between three separate people, perhaps a master teacher, a department head, and the principal of the school.

Certification and Education: I would include certain advantages to teachers who completed teacher education plans, perhaps awarding them slightly higher pay than teachers who started teaching with just a bachelors degrees, but teachers who started without a degree and proved themselves as competent teachers would catch up to the "certified" teachers within one year. Since most education certification programs only take one year, the only advantage to attending them would be if the program provided the new teachers with applicable skills that improved value added scores. Additional graduate education could also be factored into the personnel rating, but once again, because of the weighting of the value added scores, only programs that "added value" would make the program make sense. Hopefully, this program would cause education schools to reform themselves to emphasize real world skills, instead of concentrating on education fluff.

Tenure: Finally, I would include a high year of tenure program for the basic level of teachers. If after say three or four years, a teacher wasn't able to meet a certain level of performance, they would be let go. Since most studies I have read have said that most improvement happens in the first two years of teaching, this should be enough time to determine who the good teacher would be. Additionally, once promoted to a certain level, teachers would continually have to meet cutoff scores for that level. This would ensure that teachers would have to continually strive to for success.

Goal: The goal of my proposal is to reward good teachers, while at the same time encouraging education schools to reform. Since their would be years of service raises, teachers who peaked out or simply didn't want to take on the extra responsibilities of promotion would still be rewarded for dedication and loyalty to the profession. Because value added scores carry most of the promotion points, education schools would only be able to survive if they could demonstrate that they gave their students a competitive edge, besides for a piece of paper. Reform is on the horizon, I think that my rough outline of a program is a good starting point to design a pay system that rewards high performers and hopefully provides incentives for teachers to excel and to improve.