Dumping Everyday Math? The Future of Seattle Elementary Math Education Will Be Decided on Wednesday

But I would suggest an even more important vote will occur on Wednesday, one that will decide the future of tens or hundreds of thousands of Seattle students over the next decade: the Seattle School Board’s vote on the future elementary math curriculum. As I have noted in previous blogs, Seattle Public Schools is now … Continue reading Dumping Everyday Math? The Future of Seattle Elementary Math Education Will Be Decided on Wednesday

One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck: Everyday Mathematics

Via a Barry Garelick email:

“The article describes my experience tutoring my daughter and her friend when they were in sixth grade, using Singapore Math in order to make up for the train wreck known as Everyday Math that she was getting in school. I doubt that the article will change the minds of the administrators who believe Everyday Math has merit, but it wasn’t written for that purpose. It was written for and dedicated to parents to let them know they are not alone, that they aren’t the only ones who have shouted at their children, that there are others who have experienced the tears and the confusion and the frustration. Lastly it offers some hope and guidance in how to go about teaching their kids what they are not learning at school.”

In Favor of Everyday Math; Middleton Cross Plains Math Scores Soar

Angela Bettis:

The most recent research from the U.S. Department of Education shows that American 15-year-olds are behind their International counterparts when it comes to problem solving and math literacy.


The report showed the U.S. ranks 24th out of 29 nations.


But a math program, gaining in popularity, is trying to change that.
The program is called Everyday Math.


Lori Rusch is a fourth grade teacher at Middleton’s Elm Lawn Elementary. This year she teaches an advanced math class.


On Monday, students in Rusch’s class were mastering fractions and percentages.


But her students began learning fractions and percentages in first grade.

“We’ve been incredibly successful with it,” said Middleton’s curriculum director George Marvoulis. “Our students on all of our comparative assessments like WKCE, Explorer Plan, ACT, our students score higher in math than any other subject area so we’ve been very pleased.”


According to Marvoulis, Middleton was one of the first school districts in the nation to use the Everyday Math program in 1994.


“The concept is kind of a toolbox of different tools they can use to solve a problem,” explained Marvoulis.

Related: Math Forum and Clusty Search on Everyday Math.

Teaching Teachers: Big Costs, Little Payoff

Dan Dempsey: A study, entitled “The Mirage,” was based on surveys of 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders, along with interviews with more than 100 staff involved in teacher development. The surveys and interviews were conducted in three large school districts and a mid-sized charter school network. PD costs were found to average $18,000 per … Continue reading Teaching Teachers: Big Costs, Little Payoff

Deja Vu on Madison Math: Algebra: The most-failed class for Madison freshmen

Molly Beck: “When you look at the data, there’s something not working, clearly,” she said. “And if you know being on track in ninth grade is key to a student’s success then it’s our obligation to change that.” She said the district will be strengthening the quality and consistency of algebra instruction across schools so … Continue reading Deja Vu on Madison Math: Algebra: The most-failed class for Madison freshmen

Teacher group: Math is ‘the domain of old, white men’

Danette Clark: According to a Teach for America website, culturally responsive teaching in math is important because “math has traditionally been seen as the domain of old, White men.” As reported earlier this week, Teach for America groups across the country are committing themselves to “culturally responsive teaching,” a radical pedagogy used by communist Bill … Continue reading Teacher group: Math is ‘the domain of old, white men’

“More Rigor is Needed” – Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham; Possible?

Pat Schneider: Middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District have become caring environments for students, but aren’t rigorous enough to prepare them for high school academic work, says Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. “We know there are quite a few things that highly effective schools do that we have not been doing in both our middle … Continue reading “More Rigor is Needed” – Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham; Possible?

“Who Is Carmen Fariña?” Mayor De Blasio’s new schools chancellor is a longtime champion of failed progressive pedagogy.

Sol Stern:

In his press conference introducing Carmen Fariña as New York City’s next schools chancellor, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested that he had picked her over several other candidates because she was on the same page with him in opposing Bloomberg-era education reforms. Most of the city’s education reporters took the new mayor’s spin and ran with it, even though Fariña had served loyally as Michael Bloomberg’s second-highest-ranking education official. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez predicted that Fariña would now bring “revolutionary” changes to the department of education that she left in 2006. A headline in The Hechinger Report claimed that Fariña wanted DRAMATIC–EVEN JOYFUL–DEPARTURE FROM BLOOMBERG ERA. But that depends on what Bloomberg era you’re talking about: during the years that she served in the administration, Fariña was fully on board with its education policies.
In fact, considering Fariña’s pivotal role during the first Bloomberg term in shaping the Department of Education’s radical initiatives, portraying her as a dissident from within seems absurd. Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools in June 2002, but he knew little about what actually went on in the city’s classrooms. He appointed Joel Klein, a corporate lawyer with no background in instructional issues, as his first schools chancellor. Bloomberg and Klein deferred virtually all decision-making on classroom instruction and curriculum to a cadre of veteran progressive educators led by Diana Lam, Klein’s first deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. Lam and Fariña convinced Klein to introduce the constructivist “balanced-literacy” reading and writing program, developed by Lucy Calkins of Columbia Teachers College, along with a fuzzy constructivist-math program called Everyday Math, into just about every elementary school classroom in the city. (Klein would eventually realize that adopting balanced literacy was a serious mistake.)
In an early 2003 speech presenting his administration’s new education reforms, Mayor Bloomberg declared that the “experience of other urban school districts shows that a standardized approach to reading, writing, and math is the best way to raise student performance across the board in all subjects,” and therefore that “the chancellor’s office will dictate the curriculum.” And so it did. Lam soon became embroiled in a nepotism scandal and had to resign. Fariña then took over as deputy chancellor for instruction. She became the DOE’s enforcer, making sure that all teachers in the elementary schools toed the line and implemented Calkins’s constructivist methods for teaching reading and writing. Teachers received a list of “nonnegotiable” guidelines for arranging their classrooms, including such minute details as the requirement that there must be a rug on the floor for students to sit on in the early grades and that nothing but student work be posted on the walls.
Balanced literacy has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor minority children. No independent research study has ever evaluated its methodology. Nevertheless, it was popular in education schools because it promulgated two of progressive education’s key commandments: that teachers must abandon deadening “drill and kill” methods and that students are capable of “constructing their own knowledge.” Progressives such as Calkins evoked ideal classrooms, where young children naturally find their way to literacy without enduring boring, scripted phonics drills forced on them by automaton teachers. Instead, in a balanced-literacy classroom, students work in small groups and follow what Calkins calls the “workshop model” of cooperative learning. The program takes for granted that children can learn to read and write naturally, with minimal guidance. Calkins rejects E.D. Hirsch’s finding (based on an overwhelming consensus in cognitive-science research) that the key to improving children’s reading comprehension is grounding them in broad knowledge, which she and other progressives dismiss as “mere facts.” Calkins also believes that her model classrooms promote “social justice” for all. In an interview I conducted with her at the time the DOE selected her program, she told me that “It’s a great move to social justice to bring [balanced literacy] to every school in the city.”
That’s what Fariña tried to accomplish in the early years of the Bloomberg administration–including the social-justice part. She was instrumental in creating the most centralized, top-down instructional system in the recent history of American public education. Agents of the deputy chancellor (euphemistically called “coaches”) fanned out to almost all city elementary schools to make sure that every teacher was marching in lockstep with the department of education’s new pedagogical approach. Under the rubric of “professional development,” DOE central headquarters launched an aggressive campaign to force teachers to teach literacy and math only one way–the progressive way. Each of the city’s 80,000 teachers got a six-hour CD-ROM laying out the philosophy behind the new standardized curriculum and pedagogy. The CD portrayed the world of progressive education writ large, with all its romantic assumptions about how children learn. In addition to inculcating Calkins’s balanced literacy, the DOE’s training manual celebrated the theories of an obscure Australian education guru–Brian Cambourne of Wollongong University in New South Wales, a leader of the whole-language movement (a cousin of balanced literacy) then dominating Australian public schools. Cambourne’s ideas gave city teachers not only more balanced literacy (or whole language) theory, but also a warrant for social-justice teaching.
Cambourne claims that as a young teacher, he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated extraordinary competence in performing challenging tasks. The son of the local bookie, for example, “couldn’t learn basic math,” according to Cambourne, “but could calculate the probability the Queen of Spades was in the deck faster than I could.” Cambourne decided that children learn better in natural settings, with a minimum of adult help–a staple of progressive-education thought. Thus the role of the educator should be to create classroom environments that stimulate children but also closely resemble the way adults work and learn. Children should no longer sit in rows facing the teacher; instead, the room should be arranged with work areas where children can construct their own knowledge, much as in Calkins’s workshop model of balanced literacy.
Such constructivist assumptions about how to teach literacy were enforced with draconian discipline in city schools for several years. Progressives like Calkins, Cambourne, and Fariña don’t insist that more learning occurs when children work in groups and in “natural” settings because they’ve followed any evidence. To the contrary, as much as it tells us anything on this issue, science makes clear that, particularly for disadvantaged children, direct, explicit instruction works best. But under Fariña, reeducation sessions for teachers were meant to overcome dissenting opinion and drive home the progressive party line. To quote the directives to teachers included on the CD: “Your students must not be sitting in rows. You must not stand at the head of the class. You must not do ‘chalk and talk’ at the blackboard. You must have a ‘workshop’ in every single reading period. Your students must be ‘active learners,’ and they must work in groups.”
As I reported at the time, some brave teachers objected. At Junior High School 44 in Manhattan, a teacher tried to point out to his supervisor, quite reasonably, that some teachers feel more comfortable with and get better results through direct instruction and other traditional methods. The school’s literacy coach, sent by the DOE, then responded: “This is the way it is. Everyone will do it this way, or you can change schools.”
Calkins was grateful for Carmen Fariña’s efforts in advancing her instructional agenda, her career, and her organization’s bottom line. (Calkins’s Readers and Writers Program at Teachers College received over $10 million in no-bid contracts from the city.) Calkins expressed her appreciation in a forward she penned for Fariña’s book, A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence, coauthored with Laura Koch, Fariña’s closest associate and collaborator at the DOE. “When Carmen and Laura took the helm of New York City’s school system, teachers, staff developers, and principals across the entire city let out a collective cheer of enthusiasm,” Calkins writes. She conjures a glorious history: “Within a week [of Fariña’s promotion to deputy chancellor for instruction] our education system began to change. Educators at every level could feel possibility in the air; the excitement was palpable.” And because of Fariña’s magic, “sound practices in the teaching of reading and writing became the talk of the town–the subject of study groups and hallway conversations in every school . . . The entire city began working together afresh to meet the challenge of improving education for all children.”
In reality, though, the balanced-literacy advocates failed in this task. The city’s eighth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests barely budged over 12 years, despite a doubling of education spending–from $12 billion to $24 billion. There was no narrowing of the racial achievement gap. (In sounding his tale of two cities theme, Mayor de Blasio makes no accounting for the failure of progressive education programs to reduce the academic achievement gap between poor and middle-class children.)
Recognizing balanced literacy’s meager results, Chancellor Klein reverted to a system of more autonomous schools, giving principals far more discretion over instructional matters. Klein apparently came to believe that he had been misled by Fariña and Calkins. The chancellor then became a supporter of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, with its focus on direct instruction and the teaching of broad content knowledge. He set up a three-year pilot program, matching ten elementary schools using the Hirsch early-grade literacy curriculum against a demographically similar cohort of ten schools that used balanced literacy. The children in the Core Knowledge schools significantly outperformed those in the schools using the Calkins approach.
Still opposing the direct teaching of factual knowledge, Fariña recently shrugged off the pilot study, saying that not enough schools were involved. But if Fariña is serious about that criticism, she now has an opportunity to run a much larger evaluation of Core Knowledge. As a result of the city’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and of aligned curricula emphasizing the “rich content knowledge” that the standards require, 71 elementary school principals have chosen to use Hirsch’s Core Knowledge literacy program in their schools.
Let Fariña visit and study those schools over the next year. If she really is committed to changing the tale of two cities, as she and the new mayor claim to be, one way to start would be to cast aside ideology and judge whether those Core Knowledge classrooms, drenched in “mere facts,” are actually the key to narrowing the devastating knowledge gap between middle-class kids and poor children, who begin school with little knowledge of the world and with a stunted vocabulary. She might also find that there is at least as much “joy” in classrooms in which children get taught explicitly about the world around them as there is in classrooms in which children “construct” their own knowledge.

A Math Teacher on Common Core Standards

Stephanie Sawyer, via a kind reader’s email:

I don’t think the common core math standards are good for most kids, not just the Title I students. While they are certainly more focused than the previous NCTM-inspired state standards, which were a horrifying hodge-podge of material, they still basically put the intellectual cart before the horse. They pay lip service to actually practicing standard algorithms. Seriously, students don’t have to be fluent in addition and subtraction with the standard algorithms until 4th grade?
I teach high school math. I took a break to work in the private sector from 2002 to 2009. Since my return, I have been stunned by my students’ lack of basic skills. How can I teach algebra 2 students about rational expressions when they can’t even deal with fractions with numbers?
Please don’t tell me this is a result of the rote learning that goes on in grade- and middle-school math classes, because I’m pretty sure that’s not what is happening at all. If that were true, I would have a room full of students who could divide fractions. But for some reason, most of them can’t, and don’t even know where to start.
I find it fascinating that students who have been looking at fractions from 3rd grade through 8th grade still can’t actually do anything with them. Yet I can ask adults over 35 how to add fractions and most can tell me. And do it. And I’m fairly certain they get the concept. There is something to be said for “traditional” methods and curriculum when looked at from this perspective.
Grade schools have been using Everyday Math and other incarnations for a good 5 to 10 years now, even more in some parts of the country. These are kids who have been taught the concept way before the algorithm, which is basically what the Common Core seems to promote. I have a 4th grade son who attends a school using Everyday Math. Luckily, he’s sharp enough to overcome the deficits inherent in the program. When asked to convert 568 inches to feet, he told me he needed to divide by 12, since he had to split the 568 into groups of 12. Yippee. He gets the concept. So I said to him, well, do it already! He explained that he couldn’t, since he only knew up to 12 times 12. But he did, after 7 agonizing minutes of developing his own iterated-subtraction-while-tallying system, tell me that 568 inches was 47 feet, 4 inches. Well, he got it right. But to be honest, I was mad; he could’ve done in a minute what ended up taking 7. And he already got the concept, since he knew he had to divide; he just needed to know how to actually do it. From my reading of the common core, that’s a great story. I can’t say I feel the same.
If Everyday Math and similar programs are what is in store for implementing the common core standards for math, then I think we will continue to see an increase in remedial math instruction in high schools and colleges. Or at least an increase in the clientele of the private tutoring centers, which do teach basic math skills.

Related links: Math Forum.

A statistician’s view of constructivist math programs

Nicole O. Stouffer:

I’ve had 4 years of undergraduate math courses, two years of graduate math courses, and I have taught graduate level math courses. I had never seen the “lattice” method, the Egyptian method, or any of these other alternative algorithms until last year when I looked at Everyday Math homework. Students don’t need them, and those methods will not help a student move onto higher mathematics.
I would have been laughed out of my college classes if I used the “partial sums” method to add. I wouldn’t have been able to take differential equations if I hadn’t mastered long division. There is a reason why traditional algorithms (the math methods you learned in school to add, subtract, multiply and divide) are needed. Traditional algorithms are needed to understand higher mathematics in college. It is extremely important that they are practiced until they are mastered. In fact, the new Common Core State math standards recommend teaching the standard algorithms.
You might think there is no reason not to offer alternative algorithms, as long as they also teach the traditional methods, but I have three reasons why the teaching of alternative programs is a problem.

Seattle teacher discusses the challenges teachers face

Laurie Rogers:

Written by an experienced elementary school teacher, Seattle
Dear Laurie Rogers:
Thanks for writing your book. One of the things that you discuss in your compelling discourse is the low standards that our colleges have had in the subject matter (as opposed to teaching theory, sociology, and psychology) for those who have a desire to become teachers in our public schools.
For the past twenty-two years, I have diligently taught 4th and 5th grade students. For the first eighteen years, I taught math according to the classical mode that you describe in your book. As the reforms took hold, and we were monitored ever more closely, I was forced into using Everyday Math according to a pacing guide set by the district. As you have rightly observed, it is a program that emphasizes coverage and not mastery.
For much of the year, I had 34 students. Of these 34 students, seven had Special Education IEPs and were to be served according to a pull-in model which never quite materialized. I did have a special ed. instructional assistant for 50 minutes a day until she was pulled to serve in a more “needy” classroom. One of my students was mentally retarded and never once scored about the first percentile on the MAP test. Another student started the year almost totally blind and had a personal assistant for two hours out of the day to teach her Braille. Two were removed from their homes by CPS and placed under foster care: one for neglect and the other for domestic violence. Three students were absent for more than 30 days each. I could go on, but I think that you get the picture.

Film: The Finland Phenomenon & A Counter View

Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, via a kind reader’s email.
The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children’s mathematical skills:

The results of the PISA survey (http://www.jyu.fi/ktl/pisa/) have brought about satisfaction and pride in Finland. Newspapers and media have advertised that Finnish compulsory school leavers are top experts in mathematics.
However, mathematics teachers in universities and polytechnics are worried, as in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically. As an example of this one could take the extensive TIMSS 1999 survey, in which Finnish students were below the average in geometry and algebra. As another example, in order not to fail an unreasonably large amount of students in the matriculation exams, recently the board has been forced to lower the cut-off point alarmingly. Some years, 6 points out of 60 have been enough for passing.
This conflict can be explained by pointing out that the PISA survey measured only everyday mathematical knowledge, something which could be – and in the English version of the survey report explicitly is – called “mathematical literacy”; the kind of mathematics which is needed in high-school or vocational studies was not part of the survey. No doubt, everyday mathematical skills are valuable, but by no means enough.

Math Curricula

Charlie Mas:

I know that I’m inviting trouble with this, but something that Reader wrote in a comment on another thread piqued my interest. I would like to discuss only a narrow question. Please don’t expand the discussion.
Writing about Everyday Math and Singapore, Reader wrote: “The fact is, the newer curricula stress more problem solving and discovery. That is, it’s doing more than a lot of older curricula.”
Here’s my question: can problem-solving be taught?
I mean this in the nicest possible way and I don’t have an answer myself. I’m not sure, I’m asking. Can people be taught or trained in problem-solving techniques or is it a talent that some people just natively have more than others? Problem solving requires a certain amount of creativity, doesn’t it? It can require a flexibility of perspective, curiosity, persistence, and pattern recognition. Can these things be taught or trained?

Related: Math Forum audio/video links.

The secret of Schmitz Park Elementary School is Singapore Math

Bruce Ramsey:

Sally made 500 gingerbread men. She sold 3/4 of them and gave away 2/5 of the remainder. How many did she give away?
This was one of the homework questions in Craig Parsley’s fifth-grade class. The kids are showing their answers on the overhead projector. They are in a fun mood, using class nicknames. First up is “Crackle,” a boy. The class hears from “Caveman,” “Annapurna,” “Shortcut” and “Fred,” a girl.
Each has drawn a ruler with segments labeled by number — on the problem above, “3/4,” “2/5” and “500.” Below the ruler is some arithmetic and an answer.
“Who has this as a single mathematical expression? Who has the guts?” Parsley asks. No one, yet — but they will.
This is not the way math is taught in other Seattle public schools. It is Singapore Math, adopted from the Asian city-state whose kids test at the top of the world. Since the 2007-08 year, Singapore Math has been taught at Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle — and only there in the district.
In the war over school math — in which a judge recently ordered Seattle Public Schools to redo its choice of high-school math — Schmitz Park is a redoubt or, it hopes, a beachhead. North Beach is a redoubt for Saxon Math, a traditional program. Both schools have permission to be different. The rest of the district’s elementary schools use Everyday Math, a curriculum influenced by the constructivist or reform methods.

Related: Math Forum Audio / Video.

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use

via a kind reader’s email: Sue Abplanalp, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education, Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning, Mary Jo Ziegler, Language Arts/Reading Coordinator, Teaching & Learning, Jennie Allen, Title I, Ellie Schneider, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader [2.6MB PDF]:

Background The Board of Education requested a thorough and neutral review of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Reading Recovery program, In response to the Board request, this packet contains a review of Reading Recovery and related research, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Reading Recovery student data analysis, and a matrix summarizing three options for improving early literacy intervention. Below please find a summary of the comprehensive research contained in the Board of Education packet. It is our intent to provide the Board of Education with the research and data analysis in order to facilitate discussion and action toward improved effectiveness of early literacy instruction in MMSD.
Reading Recovery Program Description The Reading Recovery Program is an intensive literacy intervention program based on the work of Dr. Marie Clay in New Zealand in the 1970’s, Reading Recovery is a short-term, intensive literacy intervention for the lowest performing first grade students. Reading Recovery serves two purposes, First, it accelerates the literacy learning of our most at-risk first graders, thus narrowing the achievement gap. Second, it identifies children who may need a long-term intervention, offering systematic observation and analysis to support recommendations for further action.
The Reading Recovery program consists of an approximately 20-week intervention period of one-to-one support from a highly trained Reading Recovery teacher. This Reading Recovery instruction is in addition to classroom literacy instruction delivered by the classroom teacher during the 90-minute literacy block. The program goal is to provide the lowest performing first grade students with effective reading and writing strategies allowing the child to perform within the average range of a typical first grade classroom after a successful intervention period. A successful intervention period allows the child to be “discontinued” from the Reading Recovery program and to function proficiently in regular classroom literacy instruction.
Reading Recovery Program Improvement Efforts The national Reading Recovery data reports the discontinued rate for first grade students at 60%. In 2008-09, the discontinued rate for MMSD students was 42% of the students who received Reading Recovery. The Madison Metropolitan School District has conducted extensive reviews of Reading Recovery every three to four years. In an effort to increase the discontinued rate of Reading Recovery students, MMSD worked to improve the program’s success through three phases.

Reading recovery will be discussed at Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting.
Related:

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg: Madison schools distort reading data:

    In her column, Belmore also emphasized the 80 percent of the children who are doing well, but she provided additional statistics indicating that test scores are improving at the five target schools. Thus she argued that the best thing is to stick with the current program rather than use the Reading First money.
    Belmore has provided a lesson in the selective use of statistics. It’s true that third grade reading scores improved at the schools between 1998 and 2004. However, at Hawthorne, scores have been flat (not improving) since 2000; at Glendale, flat since 2001; at Midvale/ Lincoln, flat since 2002; and at Orchard Ridge they have improved since 2002 – bringing them back to slightly higher than where they were in 2001.
    In short, these schools are not making steady upward progress, at least as measured by this test.
    Belmore’s attitude is that the current program is working at these schools and that the percentage of advanced/proficient readers will eventually reach the districtwide success level. But what happens to the children who have reading problems now? The school district seems to be writing them off.
    So why did the school district give the money back? Belmore provided a clue when she said that continuing to take part in the program would mean incrementally ceding control over how reading is taught in Madison’s schools (Capital Times, Oct 16). In other words, Reading First is a push down the slippery slope toward federal control over public education.

    also, Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy.

  • Jeff Henriques references a Seidenberg paper on the importance of phonics, published in Psychology Review.
  • Ruth Robarts letter to Isthmus on the Madison School District’s reading progress:

    Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
    I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
    Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.

  • Madison teacher Barb Williams letter to Isthmus on Madison School District reading scores:

    I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color–a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district’s preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)
    Though the scripted lessons typical of most direct instruction programs are offensive to many teachers (and is one reason given that the district rejected the Reading First grant) the irony is that an elementary science program (Foss) that the district is now pushing is also scripted as is Reading Recovery and Everyday Math, all elementary curricula blessed by the district.
    I wonder if we might close the achievement gap further if teachers in the district were encouraged to use an approach to reading that emphasizes explicit and systematic phonics instruction for those kids who need it. Maybe we’d have fewer kids in special education and more children of color scoring in the proficient and advanced levels of the third grade reading test.

My Totally Unscientific Teacher Quality Survey

My survey:

Based on your experience working in a traditional public school serving primarily low-income and/or minority students, what percentage of the teachers you worked with were (the numbers in the three boxes must add up to 100):

  • Good/great (you would be happy to have your child in the class)
  • Fair, but improvement is possible (you would have reservations having your child in the class)
  • Horrible and unlikely to ever improve (you would NEVER permit your child to be in the class)

46 people responded and here were the results:
Good/great: 20%
Fair: 35%
Horrible: 45%
This is obviously a very skewed group of mostly TFA teachers in the worst schools, but nevertheless I’m shocked that the horrible number is so high. If this figure is even close to being right, then the problem is even bigger than I thought. I’ll have to think about the implications of this, but one obvious one is the enormous importance of changing union contracts (and other factors) that make it impossible to remove horrible teachers — and let’s be clear, everyone knows who they are. There may be some tough calls regarding whether to keep certain teachers in the “fair” category, but horrible ones who are unlikely to ever improve need to find another line of work — but, esp in this economy, they will fight to the death to keep their very nice jobs…
2) Here’s a comment from one person who responded to the survey:
Good/great: 50%
Fair: 30%
Horrible: 20%

I taught in NYC for 5 years, from 2002-2007; I taught 5th grade, all subjects, and I was not TFA, but was NYCTF. One quibble with your survey and its framing: I would not want my daughter in any classroom in my school, regardless of the teacher quality. The curriculum (Teacher’s College reading and writing; Everyday Math, virtually zero science, social studies, art and music) was either bad or nonexistent, and the social environment (harsh, chaotic) was not fit for any child. I agree that teacher quality is huge, but it’s not enough to overcome all other problems. Great schools are great schools when all or most of the moving parts (teachers, administrators, curriculum, accountability, environment, seriousness of purpose, parental involvement, et al) are working. Planes can fly if they lose an engine, even two. They can’t fly on one. At least not for very long.

Math Performance Anxiety

Debra Saunders:

n the 1990s, the Math Wars pitted two philosophies against each other. One side argued for content-based standards – that elementary school students must memorize multiplication tables by third grade. The other side argued for students to discover math, unfettered by “drill and kill” exercises.
When the new 1994 California Learning Assessment Test trained test graders to award a higher score to a child with a wrong answer (but good essay) than to a student who successfully solved a math problem, but without a cute explanation, the battle was on. New-new math was quickly dubbed “fuzzy crap.” By the end of the decade, repentant educators passed solid math standards.
Yet the Math Wars continue in California, as well as in New Jersey, Oregon and elsewhere. In Palo Alto, parent and former Bush education official Ze’ev Wurman is one of a group of parents who oppose the Palo Alto Unified School District Board’s April 14 vote to use “Everyday Mathematics” in grades K-5. Wurman recognizes that the “fuzzies” aren’t as fuzzy as they used to be, but also believes that state educators who approve math texts “fell asleep at the switch” when they approved the “Everyday” series in 2007.
The “Everyday” approach supports “spiraling” what students learn over as long as two or more years. As an Everyday teacher guide explained, “If we can, as a matter of principle and practice, avoid anxiety about children ‘getting’ something the first time around, then children will be more relaxed and pick up part or all of what they need. They may not initially remember it, but with appropriate reminders, they will very likely recall, recognize, and get a better grip on the skill or concept when it comes around again in a new format or application-as it will!” Those are my italics – to highlight the “fuzzies’ ” performance anxiety.

Related: Math Forum.

School Shopping, Part IV

Jan Eyer:

I think we’ve decided where Belle is going to kindergarten. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, she’ll be attending our neighborhood school in the fall.
When I last wrote on this subject, we were really torn between the two options, the neighborhood school and the public “Open” school. Since that writing, I did a classroom observation at the Open school, which was required as part of the application process, and liked what I saw overall. I did wish that they hadn’t put me in a student teacher classroom, but I suppose that’s a reality that is good to observe, too.
We went ahead with being entered in the lottery, and we drew number 45. The lottery was in the end of March, and as of now they are at number 38 on the list. Historically, people who draw numbers in the 40s usually get in, but it can be as late as July or August. So all through April and May, Kevin and I put off discussing the issue because we figured we’d hash it out if/when we got in and there was a decision to make. (Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting opinions on both schools from anyone and everyone I could.) We told Belle that there were two schools we were considering for her, and she was OK with it being up in the air.

Eyer recently wrote about the Ann Arbor School District’s use of “Everyday Math”.

Much more on Finland’s Education System

A reader emailed these links regarding the recent article on Finland’s education system:

  • The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children’s mathematical skills:

    The results of the PISA survey (http://www.jyu.fi/ktl/pisa/) have brought about satisfaction and pride in Finland. Newspapers and media have advertised that Finnish compulsory school leavers are top experts in mathematics.
    However, mathematics teachers in universities and polytechnics are worried, as in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically. As an example of this one could take the extensive TIMSS 1999 survey, in which Finnish students were below the average in geometry and algebra. As another example, in order not to fail an unreasonably large amount of students in the matriculation exams, recently the board has been forced to lower the cut-off point alarmingly. Some years, 6 points out of 60 have been enough for passing.
    This conflict can be explained by pointing out that the PISA survey measured only everyday mathematical knowledge, something which could be – and in the English version of the survey report explicitly is – called “mathematical literacy”; the kind of mathematics which is needed in high-school or vocational studies was not part of the survey. No doubt, everyday mathematical skills are valuable, but by no means enough.

  • Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills:

    Basic school teacher Antero Lahti expressed (HS 28.2.) the opinion that the concern of over 200 university teachers for the mathematics teaching (HS 17.2.) were merely academic criticism.
    In fact, about one half of those signing are teachers at polytechnics (universities of applied sciences) and technical universities. They do not teach “academic” mathematics but mathematics needed in technical practice and engineering sciences. Over 12 000 students start engineering studies yearly.
    The mathematics skills of new engineering students have been systematically tested during years 1999-2004 at Turku polytechnic using 20 mathematical problems. One example of poor knowledge of mathematics is the fact that only 35 percent of the 2400 tested students have been able to do an elementary problem where a fraction is subtracted from another fraction and the difference is divided by an integer.
    If one does not know how to handle fractions, one is not able to know algebra, which uses the same mathematical rules. Algebra is a very important field of mathematics in engineering studies. It was not properly tested in the PISA study. Finnish basic school pupils have not done well in many comparative tests in algebra (IEA 1981, Kassel 1994-96, TIMSS 1999).

“American Education Fails Because It Isn’t Education”

Tom DeWeese:

Perhaps the most bizarre of all of the school restructuring programs is mathematics. Math is an exact science, loaded with absolutes. There can be no way to question that certain numbers add up to specific totals. Geometric statements and reasons must lead to absolute conclusions. Instead, today we get “fuzzy” Math. Of course they don’t call it that.
As ED Watch explains, “Fuzzy” math’s names are Everyday Math, Connected Math, Integrated Math, Math Expressions, Constructive Math, NCTM Math, Standards-based Math, Chicago Math, and Investigations, to name a few. Fuzzy Math means students won’t master math: addition, subtraction, multiplications and division.
Instead, Fuzzy Math teaches students to “appreciate” math, but they can’t solve the problems. Instead, they are to come up with their own ideas about how to compute.
Here’s how nuts it can get. A parent wrote the following letter to explain the everyday horrors of “Everyday Math.” “Everyday Math was being used in our school district. My son brought home a multiplication worksheet on estimating. He had ‘estimated’ that 9×9=81, and the teacher marked it wrong. I met with her and defended my child’s answer.
The teacher opened her book and read to me that the purpose of the exercise was not to get the right answer, but was to teach the kids to estimate. The correct answer was 100: kids were to round each 9 up to a 10. (The teacher did not seem to know that 81 was the product, as her answer book did not state the same.)”
Social, political, multicultural and especially environmental issues are rampant in the new math programs and textbooks. One such math text is blatant. Dispersed throughout the eighth grade textbooks are short, half page blocks of text under the heading “SAVE PLANT EARTH.” One of the sections describes the benefits of recycling aluminum cans and tells students, “how you can help.”
In many of these textbooks there is literally no math. Instead there are lessons asking children to list “threats to animals,” including destruction of habitat, poisons and hunting. The book contains short lessons in multiculturalism under the recurring heading “Cultural Kaleidoscope.” These things are simply political propaganda and are there for one purpose – behavior modification. It’s not Math. Parents are now paying outside tutors to teach their children real Math – after they have been forced to sit in classrooms for eight hours a day being force-fed someone’s political agenda.

Schools streamline how math is taught: Same textbooks, same lessons, at the same time

Via a reader, interested in this issue:Jessica Blanchard: When Seattle elementary-schoolers open their math textbooks this fall, they’ll all be on the same page — literally. In an attempt to boost stagnant test scores, elementary teachers will start using the same math textbooks and materials and covering lessons at the same time as their colleagues … Continue reading Schools streamline how math is taught: Same textbooks, same lessons, at the same time

“Far too Fuzzy Math Curriculum is to Blame for Declining NYC Test Scores”

Elizabeth Carson: Here’s a math problem for you: Count the excuses people are trotting out for why schoolkids in New York City and State did poorly in the latest round of math scores. The results showed just 57% of the city’s and 66% of the state’s students performing at grade level – and a steady … Continue reading “Far too Fuzzy Math Curriculum is to Blame for Declining NYC Test Scores”

The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor

The Economist: Look around the business world and two things stand out: the modern economy places an enormous premium on brainpower; and there is not enough to go round. But education inevitably matters most. How can India talk about its IT economy lifting the country out of poverty when 40% of its population cannot read? … Continue reading The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor

Constructivist Theory of Education

As we know, curriculae like Everyday Math, Core Math, Reading Recovery, Balanced Literacy and the Literacy Collaborative are based on the constructivist theory of education. Indeed, the Literacy Collaborative (a trademarked name for Balanced Literacy) states that its framework is based on the theories of Vygotsky, Bruner and Clay. For an interesting exercise, do a … Continue reading Constructivist Theory of Education

Reader Reed Schneider on Curriculum and School Boards

Reed Schneider emails on recent posts regarding a School Board’s role in curriculum policy: I agree that the school board should be responsible for the district’s curriculum. In fact, it is the most important thing they are charged with. 10 or more years ago, before widespread internet availability, the non-edu-estab person on a board would … Continue reading Reader Reed Schneider on Curriculum and School Boards

Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Barb Williams wrote: I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and … Continue reading Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores