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January 2, 2014

Gifted in Math, and Poor

New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Even Gifted Students Can't Keep Up" ("Numbers Crunch" series, editorial, Dec. 15): Educators know that when the curriculum is set at an optimal difficulty level, students learn to persist, attend carefully and gain self-confidence. For mathematically gifted students, the curriculum must move more quickly and in greater depth so that they can become disciplined, resilient students.

When the mathematically gifted sons and daughters of affluent, well-educated parents are not challenged, their parents spend considerable amounts of time and money finding tutors, summer programs and online courses. As a psychologist who has worked for more than 20 years with the families of gifted students, I have seen how much time and money is required for this effort.

For mathematically gifted students from poorer families, there is neither the time nor the money to seek educational opportunities outside the public schools. A weak public school system without flexibility or adequate challenge can seriously limit the educational experiences and lifetime employment opportunities of these students. A weak public school system ultimately limits quality education to those few whose parents can pay for it privately.

Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2013

Related: "They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine -- NOT!"

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April 24, 2013


STEM to Steam

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is encouraging Art/Design to be included with the K-20 STEM curriculum.

What is STEAM

In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.

We need to add Art + Design to the equation -- to transform STEM into STEAM.


STEAM is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.

The objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K-20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation
Posted by Larry Winkler at 11:03 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 1, 2012

Mathematics Education: Being Outwitted by Stupidity

Barry Garelick:

In a well-publicized paper that addressed why some students were not learning to read, Reid Lyon (2001) concluded that children from disadvantaged backgrounds where early childhood education was not available failed to read because they did not receive effective instruction in the early grades. Many of these children then required special education services to make up for this early failure in reading instruction, which were by and large instruction in phonics as the means of decoding. Some of these students had no specific learning disability other than lack of access to effective instruction. These findings are significant because a similar dynamic is at play in math education: the effective treatment for many students who would otherwise be labeled learning disabled is also the effective preventative measure.

In 2010 approximately 2.4 million students were identified with learning disabilities -- about three times as many as were identified in 1976-1977. (See and This increase raises the question of whether the shift in instructional emphasis over the past several decades has increased the number of low achieving children because of poor or ineffective instruction who would have swum with the rest of the pack when traditional math teaching prevailed. I believe that what is offered as treatment for math learning disabilities is what we could have done--and need to be doing--in the first place. While there has been a good amount of research and effort into early interventions in reading and decoding instruction, extremely little research of equivalent quality on the learning of mathematics exists. Given the education establishment's resistance to the idea that traditional math teaching methods are effective, this research is very much needed to draw such a definitive conclusion about the effect of instruction on the diagnosis of learning disabilities.1

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January 31, 2012


Ethan Fast:

Do you hold a consistent mental model of the world? For many of us (though less likely for the readers of this blog), the answer is "no." That's troubling. It's hard to be correct, if your world-view doesn't even type check. [1] People are entitled to opinions. But hold them in a state of contradiction, and they're wrong.

Though it's easy enough to apply consistency checks, inconsistent world-views abound. I suspect it's because people never learn to be consistent. Education under-represents logic and reason in the classroom. High school math class is the closest many people come to an education in rationality, and math is "just too abstract."

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January 30, 2012

7th Inter-School Pakistan Mathematics Olympiads held

The Daily Times:

The 7th Inter-Schools Mathematics Olympiad 2012 was organised on Sunday at the Pak-Turk International School Campus. Over 3,000 students from 470 schools of Jhelum, Attock, Chakwal, Rawalpindi and Islamabad participated in the mega educational competition. In order to evoke interest among the students, Pak-Turk International schools and colleges have been arranging the ISMO competition for the last six years. Speaking at the event, educationists said that there are not enough chances for student to exhibit their talent to the world. There is an immense need of such programmes for the brilliant youth, they added. This unique competition provides a great chance for the students of 5, 6, 7 and 8 classes or grades to show their incredible potential and win handsome prizes.

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January 27, 2012

"Women Worse at Math than Men" Explanation Scientifically Incorrect, MU Researchers Say

Steven Adams:

A University of Missouri researcher and his colleague have conducted a review that casts doubt on the accuracy of a popular theory that attempted to explain why there are more men than women in top levels of mathematic fields. The researchers found that numerous studies claiming that the stereotype, "men are better at math" - believed to undermine women's math performance - had major methodological flaws, utilized improper statistical techniques, and many studies had no scientific evidence of this stereotype.

This theory, called stereotype threat, was first published in 1999 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Essentially, the theory is that due to the stereotype that women are worse than men in math skills, females develop a poor self-image in this area, which leads to mathematics underachievement.

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January 26, 2012

Learning to Write Teaches Westerly Students Science
"Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice."

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist on January 25, 2012

Back in December 2009, excited 4th graders at Westerly's State Street School ( sat down to take a practice science test. Like little sports jocks, the kids approached the task as if it were training for the big game coming in the spring, the statewide science NECAP (

In 2008, the whole Westerly district had performed so poorly on that test that teachers actually volunteered their time to form a K-12 Science Task Force focused on redeeming their sullied academic reputation. (See last week's column about this Task Force (link to my column from last week) .)

Then, insult to injury, in 2009 State Street's scores tanked again.

The heat was on. State Street had already started implementing the Task Force's recommendations, including its strong emphasis on teaching writing.

Wait. Writing? That's English, not science. But more on this in a moment.

Westerly's students had struggled particularly with the "inquiry" part of the NECAP, where kids to do a hands-on task and draw conclusions from what they see in front of them.

State Street's Principal Audrey Faubert says, "Science (NECAP) is only given at the 4th grade (and later at 8th and 11th), so K-3 weren't exposed to the rigors of testing. We decided to give all the kids an inquiry task to complete. And the faculty also took some of the released test items from the RIDE website. ( Even though they'd been teaching inquiry with the science kits ( , it was interesting for the teachers to be on the other side of a test."

But the spotlight's glare was on those 4th graders.

Faubert smiled sadly, "The room was buzzing. The kids thought they did fantastic."

Working in pairs, the school's entire teaching staff scored the kids' work. The results were enough to induce clinical depression.

But as it turns out, the school's good efforts hadn't quite paid off yet. The Task Force was onto a good thing when they decided writing was key to learning science. State Street's instruction had only just started to take root.

Here's the problem: Old science was about answers. When a test asks a question like: "How does wind change sand dunes?" somewhere in the science textbook was an answer that the kid was supposed to have memorized.

New science is about thinking and reasoning. The way Faubert puts it is: "The (NECAP) science test is a thinking test, not a knowledge test. Science isn't about recall any more, but about synthesizing information." New science poses essential questions, such as the sand dunes example, but now the kids need to derive the answer themselves, by sorting through data. Teachers provide techniques, tools, research methods, and experiences. But like scientists themselves, students must do their own research and figure out what their discoveries mean.

Writing is always the product of thinking. Writing forces a kid to organize her thoughts to be expressive and communicate clearly.

Middle-school principal Paula Fusco says "Prior to the work of the Task Force, we'd left writing up to the English teacher. But whatever the kids did or didn't know, they weren't able to communicate their understanding of science."

To work on that understanding, Fusco says, "we've been taking the vocabulary out of NECAP--infer, predict, explain. So the kids aren't afraid of the words they're encountering."

The ability to define "predict" doesn't help at all if the ability to MAKE a prediction isn't also a familiar habit. Kids need to demonstrate, by their writing, that they understand what they need to DO when the test asks them to predict, infer or explain.

Similarly, Fusco's teachers began to work with the kids on "sentence starters" to guide their thinking--However, In conclusion, Whereas, Therefore.

Fortunately, Westerly's students were in the habit of writing in science journals. But they had used them mainly to record observations. Faubert says, "Every teacher brought in examples of their students' science journals. Oh, here are the strengths and weaknesses right in our own notebooks. We'd never had the kids prove their thinking in their journals. Think like a scientist, based on what's in front of you. Prove your thinking. Prove your thinking. We said that so many times."

At the end of the day, teaching the kids to EXPLAIN their predictions and reasoning was the clearest way to teach them habits of scientific thinking. And those explanations also helped the teachers assess kids' understanding and misunderstanding.

By February, State Street dared to try another practice test with the 4th graders. Again, the staff scored it together. Ahhh, much better. So much so, Faubert felt more confident about improving on the 49 percent proficiency they'd managed in the prior year's test.

In fact, when the results were released last Fall, State Street kids hit 80 percent proficiency, 8th highest in the state, out of over 150 schools that take that test. (And Westerly is the 8th lowest-income community in the state.)

Superintendent Roy Seitsinger's take on the situation is this: "Nobody (meaning veteran educators) signed up for what we're doing now. Most of the people weren't trained to bring students through a thinking process. Now the educators' job is to teach kids how to sift through all that information and to be critical, reflective and make decisions. We have too much information and not nearly enough sorting skills."

Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:10 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 25, 2012

How to Learn to Love Maths

Alex Bellos:

Britain is about to fall in love with maths. Well, that's the dream. Yesterday one of the government's top advisers on further education said that maths should be compulsory for all students until 18 or 19 - no matter what else they are studying. Professor Steve Sparks, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, also said that he wants a new maths qualification between GCSE and AS-level to be introduced by 2016.

Maths is justified in this country because it is useful. Sparks said his proposals were necessary because young people need a better grasp of maths to compete in the job market, where an understanding of technology and numeracy are increasingly important.

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Algorithmic Education (including the Mathematics of Cramming)

Samuel Arbesman:

Many of us don't learn in optimal ways. We know that we forget new material, neglect to review older material, and study in ways that elevate cramming and procrastination to art forms. But there is research about how to be more efficient in these things. For example, dating back to 1885, there is a rich literature that explores how timing our learning of new and old material can affect education.

For a long time, these theories were only loosely applied. They couldn't be put into quantitative practice because of the difficulty of carefully implementing them. But with the ability to create educational software, customized to ensure a student has an optimal learning experience, we have a wonderful opportunity to actually employ this knowledge. Unfortunately, there are so many competing concerns, it's far from trivial: We need to begin constructing new algorithms to figure out how best to learn.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:53 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teaching programming to a nine-year-old

Dr. Prabhakar Ragde:

My younger daughter is nine. After watching me sit with a laptop all term preparing material using Scheme, she wanted to know something about it. She is self-taught on the application side of computing (browsers, paint programs, word processing) but knows nothing of computation itself. So I opened up a DrScheme Interactions window. "You add like this," I said, typing in (+ 3 4). No problem. "Try some other operations, some bigger numbers." It looks like a calculator without a ten-digit limit.

I wrote out some arithmetic expressions for her to convert to Scheme. She had difficulty with them, but not with Scheme: I had forgotten how much algebraic notation is taught later. She didn't understand concatenation for multiplication, / for division, or putting two expressions one above the other with a horizontal line in between. Once I explained those, she converted them into Scheme expressions very quickly.

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January 24, 2012

Hold district accountable for deceit, academic failure and questionable activity
"Where ignorance is bliss, ignorance of ignorance is sublime." - Paul Dunham

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.

At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we'd had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don't get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), "traditional math" is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly "taking the lead" and teaching their parents.

Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a "balanced" program looks like - as if that's what Spokane actually has.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

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January 21, 2012

Apple, America and A Squeezed Middle Class

Keith Bradsher & Charles Duhigg:

Companies like Apple "say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force," said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. "They're good jobs, but the country doesn't have enough to feed the demand," Mr. Schmidt said.

Some aspects of the iPhone are uniquely American. The device's software, for instance, and its innovative marketing campaigns were largely created in the United States. Apple recently built a $500 million data center in North Carolina. Crucial semiconductors inside the iPhone 4 and 4S are manufactured in an Austin, Tex., factory by Samsung, of South Korea.

But even those facilities are not enormous sources of jobs. Apple's North Carolina center, for instance, has only 100 full-time employees. The Samsung plant has an estimated 2,400 workers.


"We shouldn't be criticized for using Chinese workers," a current Apple executive said. "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

Well worth considering from a curricular, finance and social perspective.

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Student Math Scores Jump 20 Percent with HMH Algebra Curriculum for Apple® iPad®; App Transforms Classroom Education

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

Pilot study finds students in Riverside Unified School District who used Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's HMH Fuse™: Algebra 1 app were also more motivated, attentive, and engaged than traditionally educated peers.

Global education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) today announced the results of a yearlong pilot of HMH Fuse: Algebra I, the world's first full-curriculum Algebra app developed exclusively for the Apple iPad, involving the Amelia Earhart Middle School in California's Riverside Unified School District. The pilot showed that over 78 percent of HMH Fuse users scored Proficient or Advanced on the spring 2011 California Standards Tests, compared with only 59 percent of their textbook-using peers.

The pilot showed that over 78 percent of HMH Fuse users scored Proficient or Advanced on the spring 2011 California Standards Tests, compared with only 59 percent of their textbook-using peers."

The first assessment of the pilot-- Riverside's district Algebra benchmark -took place during the second trimester of the 2010-2011 year. Students using HMH Fuse scored an average of 10 percentage points higher than their peers. The app's impact was even more pronounced after the California Standards Test in spring 2011, on which HMH Fuse students scored approximately 20 percent higher than their textbook-using peers.

Christina Bonnington has more.

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January 18, 2012

Wolfram Education Portal

Wolfram Education:

Wolfram has long been a trusted name in education--as the makers of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, we've created some of the most dynamic teaching and learning tools available. We are pleased to offer the best of all of our technologies to you here in the Wolfram Education Portal, organized by course. In the portal you'll find a dynamic textbook, lesson plans, widgets, interactive Demonstrations, and more built by Wolfram education experts. You can take a look at the types of materials we offer below, but to get full access to all materials, you need to sign up for a free account.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:41 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 16, 2012

Learn to code at any age

Emma Mulqueeny:

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for The Guardian, but just thought would be handy to have on the blog over here. It is also a small update from an old post: How to teach kids, or anyone, how to code - that's the history bit done! Now the science...

The beauty of programming is that it does not matter how old you are (within reason - under 7 is possibly a bit optimistic) you can learn using exactly the same, mostly free resources to be found on the Internet. You can learn basic programming easily within a year and then you can choose to hone and refine whichever aspects of coding most excite you. Done! It's not hard.

For the purposes of this post I have referred to resources aimed primarily at younger people - but they are all useful for the beginner.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:42 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New York City gets a Software Engineering High School

Joel Spolsky:

This fall New York City will open The Academy for Software Engineering, the city's first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software. The project has been a long time dream of Mike Zamansky, the highly-regarded CS teacher at New York's elite Stuyvesant public high school. It was jump started when Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures, promised to get the tech community to help with knowledge, advice, and money.

I'm on the board of advisors of the new school, which plans to accept ninth graders for fall of 2012. Here's why I'm excited about this new school:

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January 10, 2012

Madison's K-12 Curriculum Plans

Lisa Wachtel & Sue Abplanap: An update on the Madison School District's literacy and math curriculum.

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January 9, 2012

160 Minn. students to compete in regional Science Bowl

Associated Press:

Some 160 high school math and science students from across the state will be competing this month in a regional Science Bowl in St. Paul.

They'll be vying for the chance to represent Minnesota in the national competition in Washington, D.C. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Students compete in teams of five to solve technical problems and to answer questions in all branches of math and science, including astronomy, biology, computer science and physics. The tournament is conducted in a fast-paced question-and-answer format.

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January 3, 2012

Data and GIS Winter Newsletter 2012

John Herndon:

Data driven teaching and research at Duke keeps growing and Perkins Data and GIS continues to increase support for researchers and classes employing data, GIS, and data visualization tools. Whether your discipline is in the Humanities, Sciences, or Social Sciences, Perkins Data and GIS seeks to support researchers and students using numeric and geospatial data across the disciplines.

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January 1, 2012

Voices of a Quant: 'It's very tempting to just stay in the world where everything can be understood in mathematical language'

Joris Luyendijk:

We're meeting for lunch at a restaurant in Canary Wharf, where many of the major global banks are located. He is a man in his late 40s, inconspicuously dressed, and in possession of a firm handshake. He orders a Coke, and then a pasta dish he will dig in with great relish. In his volunteer email he said he was with a software firm (working in investment banking). When asked for a job description, he simply says he is a "quant".

"My parents discovered that I was of a mathematical bent aged three when I was apparently lining up my toys in order of size and then colour. I was one of these terrible, precocious kids who did their mathematics O-level aged 12. After a long academic career I ended up doing theoretical physics for my PhD, and spent a couple of years at Cern in Geneva. Many people I know from back then are still at universities, doing research and climbing the slippery slope to professorships and fellowships. They work the same astonishing long hours as I do, yet get paid a fraction and, from a purely scientific perspective, get to do some really, really interesting science. I often say (only half jokingly) that I "sold my soul" - I make a little over £200,000 a year, including my bonus.

"I am in a world of data, and I build all sorts of models for banks. For instance, one that helps a bank decide whom to lend a mortgage to. You have all this data about the person who is applying, and then the model works out the risk of lending to that person. You look at both the probability of this happening, and at the size of the loss in such an event.

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December 30, 2011

STEM charter high school planned at DSU

Wade Malcolm:

Earlier this year, two top Delaware State University officials visited two colleges in Ohio.

President Harry L. Williams and Provost Alton Thompson took the trips not to meet with fellow leaders in higher education. They wanted to see two high schools -- operated by and located on the campuses of Akron University and Lorain County Community College.

The model they saw in action on their visits is known as "Early College High School." And if the state approves its charter school application, DSU will open the first school of that type in Delaware on its Dover campus by the fall of 2013.

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December 25, 2011


Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.

Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.

As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, "average is over." That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.

If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.

Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.

Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world's economies.

So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don't start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.

But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, "Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!" And Sir Alexander said, "not penicillin."

Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.

Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.

I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

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To Make Algebra Fun, Rethink The Problem


For most people, the word "algebra" conjures classroom memories of Xs and Ys. Weekend Edition's math guy, Keith Devlin, says that's because most schools do a terrible job of teaching it. He talks with host Scott Simon about what algebra really is. Plus, Devlin explains how algebra took off in Baghdad, the Silicon Valley of the ninth century.

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December 21, 2011

For Cornell Tech School, a $350 Million Gift From a Single Donor

Richard Perez-Pena:

The donor whose $350 million gift will be critical in building Cornell University's new high-tech graduate school on Roosevelt Island is Atlantic Philanthropies, whose founder, Charles F. Feeney, is a Cornell alumnus who made billions of dollars through the Duty Free Shoppers Group.

Mr. Feeney, 80, has spent much of the last three decades giving away his fortune, with large gifts to universities all over the world and an unusual degree of anonymity. Cornell officials revealed in 2007 that he had given some $600 million to the university over the years, yet nothing on its Ithaca campus, where he graduated from the School of Hotel Management in 1956.

The $350 million gift, the largest in the university's history, was announced on Friday, but the donor was not named. Officials at Atlantic Philanthropies confirmed on Monday evening that it was Mr. Feeney, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who is known for his frugality -- he flies coach, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch -- as well as his philanthropic generosity, particularly to medical research.

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December 19, 2011

Statistical Illiteracy, Media Narratives, and the Spread of a Canard

Tom Elia:

The other day AP published an article titled, "Census shows 1 in 2 people are poor or low-income," which pointed to a US Census Bureau report showing that half of all households earn less than the median national income. Yes, you read that correctly.

The AP's Hope Yen reported:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans -- nearly 1 in 2 -- have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The Census Bureau's definition of a 'low-income household' is less than $45,000, as the AP's Yen wrote:

Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold -- roughly $45,000 for a family of four...

As we noted in a post on the AP 'story,' the US Census Bureau estimates that the median 2009 US household income was about $50,000.

So it seems the crux of the AP article can be accurately shortened to: Half of all households have an income below the median average!

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December 14, 2011

There really is no difference between men and women's math abilities

Alasdair Wilkins:

There's a longstanding myth of a gender gap between boys' and girls' math performance, suggesting some basic biological difference in how the two genders approach math. It's deeply controversial and widely discredited. And now, a new study has completely debunked it.

Until now, there was maybe a sliver of statistical data to support the existence of this gender gap -- nothing remotely convincing, mind you, but just enough that the idea couldn't be entirely dismissed out of hand. While most who studied the issue pointed for cultural or social reasons why girls might lag behind boys in math performance, there was still room for biological theories to be proposed.

The best-known of these is the "greater male variability hypothesis", which basically says ability among males varies more widely than that of females, which means you'll see more males at the extreme ends of the spectrum, good and bad. Then-Harvard president Larry Summers infamously put forward this idea back in 2005 as a way to explain the lack of great female mathematicians, and this was one of about a dozen different factors that ultimately cost him his job.

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December 8, 2011

China Is Poised for an I.T. Golden Age

Kai-Fu Lee:

Chinese universities graduate more than 600,000 engineering students a year. China has consistently placed at or near the top of programming competitions. And while we have not seen China become a leader in information technology and computing, I expect that this will change in the coming decade.

Since the Internet revolution of the late 1990s, many successful companies have been built by taking American ideas and localizing them for China. These companies may have "copied" from the United States at first, but they acted swiftly, focused on their customers and developed their products, adding more and more local innovations.

For example, Tencent, one of China's three Internet juggernauts, started with an instant-messaging product named QQ, which was a replica of the same system on which Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger were based. But today, QQ has evolved to become a very different product -- a combination of instant messaging, social networking, universal ID and gaming center. QQ has built the world's largest online community (about 700 million active accounts), while its American counterparts continue to build instant messaging as loss leaders.

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December 3, 2011

Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu

Susan Troller, Via email:

Madison schools aren't failing, by any stretch of the imagination, for many students.

In fact, if you're a white, middle-class family sending your children to public school here, your kids are likely getting an education that's on a par with Singapore or Finland -- among the best in the world.

However, if you're black or Latino and poor, it's an unquestionable fact that Madison schools don't as good a job helping you with your grade-point average, high school graduation, college readiness or test scores. By all these measures, the district's achievement gap between white and minority students is awful.

These facts have informed the stern (and legitimate) criticisms leveled by Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Prep backers.

But they doesn't take into account some recent glimmers of hope that shouldn't be discounted or overlooked. Programs like AVID/TOPS support first-generation college-bound students in Madison public schools and are showing some successes. Four-year-old kindergarten is likely to even the playing field for the district's youngest students, giving them a leg up as they enter school. And, the data surrounding increasing numbers of kids of color participating in Advanced Placement classes is encouraging.

Stepping back from the local district and looking at education through a broader lens, it's easy to see that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have aimed to legislate, bribe and punish their way toward an unrealistic Lake Wobegon world where all the students are above average.

Remarkable. Are there some excellent teachers in Madison? Certainly. Does Madison's Administration seek best in the world results? A look at the math task force, seemingly on hold for years, is informative. The long one size fits all battle and the talented and gifted complaint are worth contemplating.

Could Madison be the best? Certainly. The infrastructure is present, from current spending of $14,963/student to the nearby UW-Madison, Madison College and Edgewood College backed by a supportive community.

Ideally, Madison (and Wisconsin) should have the courage to participate in global examinations (Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin's Don't). Taxpayers and parents would then know if Troller's assertions are fact based.

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November 30, 2011

For young math phenom, age is just another number

Mila Koumpilova:

In his first algebra class last year, Mani Chadaga slumped low in his front-row seat and pretended to read his new textbook intently.

Mani could make himself only so inconspicuous: He was, after all, a second-grader in a junior high class at St. Paul's Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School.

So he stopped trying.

Soon, he was piping up with solutions to the teacher's questions and standing before his stumped classmates, explaining how he arrived at them. These days, as a third-grader juggling Algebra II and geometry, he kneels in his seat, only a smidgen of his early shyness and all his humility intact.

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November 25, 2011

Help Math & Science Education

Jim Young, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Dear Colleague: I am writing this letter because I sincerely fear that the future of our children and grandchildren could be in jeopardy. While there are numerous important issues facing America today, one continues to be high on my priority list, K-12 Math and Science. What scares me the most is that no one seems to care - not parents, teachers, administrators, politicians or business people - that we have FALLEN TO 25th GLOBALLY IN MATH.

It has been our strength in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and the resultant innovation that fueled the great businesses of the 20th century. Automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, space travel, telecommunications and the Internet are just a few industries that are reliant on strong Math and Science skills and have produced a significant number of good jobs. There is a very good chance that our personal good fortunes can in some way be tied to the early innovation of our grandparents.

This comparative table needs no detailed explanation. Based on 2009 statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it clearly shows how far we have fallen and how competitive the rest of the world has become

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report".

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November 24, 2011

Mathematical beauty

Javier Irastorza:

Reading science books for the general public, you'll often find physicists talking about elegance, beauty and words of the like describing laws or theories.

The Wikipedia has an entry for "Mathematical Beauty". Another entry says "Many mathematicians talk about the elegance of mathematics, its intrinsic aesthetics and inner beauty. Simplicity and generality are valued. There is beauty in a simple and elegant proof [...]".

The Spanish journal El Pais is publishing each week a mathematical challenge to its readers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Royal Mathematics Society.

Last week's challenge was to solve the sides of the different inner squares that compose the following rectangle, knowing that the red one has a side of 3.

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November 23, 2011

Stanford's Cryptography Class

Dan Boneh:

Cryptography is an indispensable tool for protecting information in computer systems. This course explains the inner workings of cryptographic primitives and how to correctly use them. Students will learn how to reason about the security of cryptographic constructions and how to apply this knowledge to real-world applications. The course begins with a detailed discussion of how two parties who have a shared secret key can communicate securely when a powerful adversary eavesdrops and tampers with traffic. We will examine many deployed protocols and analyze mistakes in existing systems. The second half of the course discusses public-key techniques that let two or more parties generate a shared secret key. We will cover the relevant number theory and discuss public-key encryption, digital signatures, and authentication protocols. Towards the end of the course we will cover more advanced topics such as zero-knowledge, distributed protocols such as secure auctions, and a number of privacy mechanisms. Throughout the course students will be exposed to many exciting open problems in the field.

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November 20, 2011

Stepping Back on Madison Prep Governance Rhetoric

Susan Troller:

Late last week I got an email from Kaleem Caire, Urban League CEO and champion of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal.

Caire was unhappy with the way I had characterized the latest version of the charter school proposal.

In a blog post following the Madison Prep board's decision late Wednesday to develop the proposed school as what's known as a "non-instrumentality" of the school district, I described this type of school as being "free from district oversight."

While it's true that the entire point of establishing a non-instrumentality charter school is to give the organization maximum freedom and flexibility in the way it operates on a day-to-day basis, I agree it would be more accurate to describe it as "largely free of district oversight," or "free of routine oversight by the School Board."

In his message, Caire asked me, and my fellow reporter, Matt DeFour from the Wisconsin State Journal, to correct our descriptions of the proposed school, which will be approved or denied by the Madison School Board in the coming weeks.

In his message, Caire writes, "Madison Prep will be governed by MMSD's Board of Education. In your stories today, you (or the quotes you provide) say we will not be. This continues to be a subject of public conversation and it is just not true."

I wonder if other Madison School District programs, many spending far larger sums, receive similar substantive scrutiny compared with the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school? The District's math (related math task force) and reading programs come to mind.

Ideally, the local media might dig into curricular performance across the spectrum, over time along with related expenditures and staffing.

From a governance perspective, it is clear that other regions and states have set the bar much higher.

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report".

In my view, the widely used (at least around the world) IB approach is a good start for Madison Prep.

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November 16, 2011

The New Physiocrats, or, Is There Value in the Humanities?

Kenneth Anderson:

In general, I agree entirely with the many commentators who have argued that the United States needs to produce more STEM graduates. But I also take note of the many people who have written to me to argue that the only truly employable STEM fields at the moment are engineering and computer science, and only certain disciplines within those. (I.e., I take the point made by many commenters that STEM graduates are not doing all that well in this economy either -- when we say STEM = employment, so commenters point out, we don't mean scientists or mathematicians as such, we mean particular fields of engineering and computer science. I can't vouch for that but do accept it.)

It's also worth keeping in mind that the United States could easily produce an excess of engineers -- yes, even engineers. The labor market of a complicated, division-of-labor society means many, many specializations, and most of them are not STEM. We need lawyers, human resources staff, janitors, communications specialists, and many things that too-reductionist a view might lead one to believe are purely frivolous intermediary occupations. Maybe they are parasitical, and maybe they will get squeezed out of existence over time. But there is a sometimes incorrect tendency these days to believe that since innovation is the heart of all increases in productivity and hence in long run growth and wealth, STEM must be responsible for it and that because STEM is the root of innovation, only STEM jobs are truly value added. I exaggerate for effect, but you see the point.

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November 15, 2011

Madison Math Circle gives young students a taste of higher math and science

Pamela Cotant:

Every week, middle and high school students are invited to the UW Madison campus to hear a talk designed to stimulate their interest in math and science and then to mingle with professors and their peers over pizza.

Called Madison Math Circle, the activity was started this fall as a replacement for the former High School Math Nights previously run on campus every other week. Organizer Gheorghe Craciun, associate professor in the math and biomolecular chemistry departments, said middle school students are now included because he found high school students are often too busy with other activities to attend.

Kevin Zamzow, who attended the Nov. 7 Madison Math Circle with his son, Noah Zamzow-Schmidt, approached the UW Madison math department about organizing the activity. Math circles are held at campuses around the country although Zamzow doesn't know of another one in Wisconsin.

"I enjoy math," said Noah, 12, a seventh grader at Edgewood Campus School who is taking 10th and 11th grade math classes at Edgewood High School. "I really enjoyed the topic tonight."

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AI-Class Exams at the University of Freiburg

University of Freiburg:

Both exams, that is the midterm and final exam for the online course "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, can be taken at the University of Freiburg, supervised by Prof. Dr. Wolfram Burgard. For both exams, you will have to be physically present at the location mentioned below. If you should be unable to come to Freiburg for both exams, you cannot receive the certificate.

Why you would want to do that, if you can do it at home, too? Because if you will pass the exams, you will get a certificate (in German: Schein) signed by Prof. Wolfram Burgard that you have passed the exam of the course and that this is equivalent to the AI course at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Freiburg. Typically, German and many international Universities accept such a certificate.
If you would like to take part in the exams at the University of Freiburg, please write an e-mail to Prof. Dr. Burgard to enroll: Please use the subject "Stanford AI Course Exam Registration" for your email.

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November 12, 2011

Wisconsin's annual school test (WKCE) still gets lots of attention, but it seems less useful each year

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin (and just about every other state) is involved in developing new state tests. That work is one of the requirements of getting a waiver and, if a bill ever emerges form Congress, it will almost certainly continue to require every state to do testing.

But the new tests aren't scheduled to be in place for three years - in the fall of 2014. So this fall and for at least the next two, Wisconsin's school children and schools will go through the elaborate process of taking a test that still gets lots of attention but seems to be less useful each year it lives on.

The oft-criticized WKCE often provides grist for "successes". Sometimes, rarely, the truth about its low standards is quietly mentioned.

I remember a conversation with a well educated Madison parent earlier this year. "My child is doing well, the WKCE reports him scoring in the 95th percentile in math"...... is worth a visit.

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November 8, 2011

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just So Darn Hard)

Christopher Drew:

LAST FALL, President Obama threw what was billed as the first White House Science Fair, a photo op in the gilt-mirrored State Dining Room. He tested a steering wheel designed by middle schoolers to detect distracted driving and peeked inside a robot that plays soccer. It was meant as an inspirational moment: children, science is fun; work harder.

Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math. All the Sputnik-like urgency has put classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade -- the pipeline, as they call it -- under a microscope. And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise.

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November 6, 2011

Common-Core Math Standards Don't Add Up

Grant Wiggins, via a kind reader's email:

There is little question in my mind that national standards will be a blessing. The crazy quilt of district and state standards will become more rational, student mobility will stop causing needless learning hardships, and the full talents of a nation of innovators will be released to develop a vast array of products and services at a scale that permits even small vendors to compete to widen the field to all educators' benefit.

That said, we are faced with a terrible situation in mathematics. In my view, unlike the English/language arts standards, the mathematics components of the Common Core State Standards Initiative are a bitter disappointment. In terms of their limited vision of math education, the pedestrian framework chosen to organize the standards, and the incoherent nature of the standards for mathematical practice in particular, I don't see how these take us forward in any way. They unwittingly reinforce the very errors in math curriculum, instruction, and assessment that produced the current crisis.

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November 2, 2011

Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading

Wisconsin Reading Coalition E-Alert, via a kind Chan Stroman Roll email:

The 4th and 8th grade NAEP reading and math scores were released today. You can view the results at The presentation webinar is at

Following is commentary on Wisconsin's NAEP reading scores that was sent to the Governor's Read to Lead task force by task force member Steve Dykstra.

2011 NAEP data for reading was released earlier than usual, this year. Under the previous timeline we wouldn't get the reading data until Spring.

While we returned to our 2007 rank of 25 from our 2009 rank of 30, that is misleading. All of our gains come from modest improvement among Black students who no longer rank last, but are still very near the bottom. The shift in rank is among Wisconsin and a group of states who all perform at an essentially identical level, and have for years. We're talking tenths of points as the difference.

It is always misleading to consider NAEP scores on a whole-state basis. Different states may have very different demographic make-ups and those difference can either exaggerate or mask the actual differences between the two states. For instance, the difference between Florida and Wisconsin (all scores refer to 4th grade reading) at the whole-state level is only 3 points. In reality, the difference is much greater. Demographic variation masks the real difference because Florida has far more minority students and far more poverty than Wisconsin. When we look at the subgroups, comparing apples to apples, we see that the real differences are vast.

When we break the groups down by gender and race, Florida outperforms Wisconsin by a statistically significant margin in every group. The smallest difference is 8 and some are as large as 20. If we break the groups down by race and school lunch status Florida outperforms Wisconsin by a statistically significant margin in every group, except black students who don't get a free lunch. For that group Florida does better, but not by enough to declare statistical certainty. The smallest margin is 9, and many are at or above 15.

10 points are generally accepted as a grade level for this range of the NAEP. Every Florida subgroup except one exceeds it's Wisconsin counterpart by a nearly a full grade level, and most by a lot more.

When we compare Wisconsin to Massachusetts the story is the same, only worse. The same groups are significantly different from each other, but the margins are slightly larger. The whole-state difference between Wisconsin and Massachusetts (15+ pts) only appears larger than for Florida because Massachusetts enjoys many of the same demographic advantages as Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin students are about the same 1.5 grade levels behind both Florida and Massachusetts for 4th grade reading.

If you want to dig deeper and kick over more rocks, it only gets worse. Every Wisconsin subgroup is below their national average and most are statistically significantly below. The gaps are found in overall scores, as well as for performance categories. We do about the same in terms of advanced students as we do with low performing students. Except for black students who don't get a free lunch (where the three states are in a virtual dead heat), Wisconsin ranks last compared to Florida and Massachusetts for every subgroup in terms of percentage of students at the advanced level. In many cases the other states exceed our rate by 50-100% or more. Their children have a 50 -100% better chance to read at the advanced level.

We need a sense of urgency to do more than meet, and talk, and discuss. We need to actually change the things that will make a difference, we need to do it fast, and we need to get it right. A lot of what needs to be done can be accomplished in a matter of days. Some of it takes a few hours. The parts that will take longer would benefit from getting the other stuff done and out of the way so we can devote our attention to those long term issues.

Our children are suffering and so far, all we're doing is talking about it. Shame on us.

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November 1, 2011

Physics vs. Phys Ed: Regardless of Need, Schools Pay the Same

Tom Gantert:

There are 19 gym teachers in the Farmington School District who make more than $85,000 a year each. The average gym teacher's salary in Farmington is $75,035. By comparison, the science teachers in that district make $68,483 per year on average.

That's not unusual in Michigan schools, according to Freedom of Information Act requests received from around the state.

In the Woodhaven-Brownstown district, 18.5 (FTE) science teachers average some $58,400 per year in salary, while 12 gym teachers averaged nearly $76,700. In Harrison, science teachers earned $49,000 on average while gym teachers averaged $62,000.

This is not unusual, because school districts don't differentiate what a teacher does when considering compensation, regardless of the district's educational needs. Teachers are paid on a single salary schedule based on seniority and education level.

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October 29, 2011

Royal Society journal archive made permanently free to access

The Royal Society:

The Royal Society continues to support scientific discovery by allowing free access to more than 250 years of leading research.

From October 2011, our world-famous journal archive - comprising more than 69,000 articles - will be opened up and all articles more than 70 years old will be made permanently free to access.


The Royal Society is the world's oldest scientific publisher and, as such, our archive is the most comprehensive in science. Treasures in the archive include Isaac Newton's first published scientific paper, geological work by a young Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin's celebrated account of his electrical kite experiment. Readers willing to delve a little deeper may find some undiscovered gems from the dawn of the scientific revolution - including Robert Boyle's account of monstrous calves, grisly tales of students being struck by lightning, and early experiments on to how to cool drinks 'without the Help of Snow, Ice, Haile, Wind or Niter, and That at Any Time of the Year.'

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October 28, 2011

My Favorite Test Question of All Time

Sam Shah:

In Calculus, we just finished our limits unit. I gave a test. It had a great question on it, inspired by Bowman and his limit activity.

Without further ado, it reads:

Then I ask part (b)...

Which reads: "Scratch off the missing data. With the new information, now answer the question: What do you think the limit as x approaches 2 of the function is (and say "d.n.e." if it does not exist)? Explain why (talk about what a limit is!).

So then they get this...

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October 25, 2011

There's Enough Math in Finance Already. What's Missing is Imagination.

Jason Gots:

For some of us, it was Spock. For others, a humiliating performance as a pilgrim in the kindergarten musical.  For me, it was William Blake's relentless (and beautiful) attacks on Reason. But everyone at some point encounters - and many of us swallow - the dangerous notion that creativity and calculation are irreconcilable enemies. 

This perspective lives at the very heart of our school curricula from first grade through graduate school, as our talents are identified and we, complicit in the scheme, label ourselves 'artistic' or 'sporty' or 'scientific.' No doubt there are real, epigenetic differences in the way people think and see the world, but in epigenesis lies the key: Nature gives us talents, but nurture determines how we use them, and how mono or multidimensional our minds become. 

Like many quants - the mathematicians whose equations shape high-stakes decision making on Wall Street - Emanuel Derman arrived on Wall Street with little knowledge of economic theory. Unlike many of his colleagues, though, he had a background in theoretical physics, a field in which imagination and mathematics are happy bedfellows. From 1990-2000, Derman led Goldman Sachs' Quantitative Strategies group, presiding over the rise of mathematical modeling as the engine driving financial betting on Wall Street. 

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October 20, 2011

Bidding Adieu to the Madison School Board; "Facts are an Obstacle to the Reform of America"

Lucy Mathiak, via a kind email:

Dear Friends,

I am writing to thank you for your encouragement and support in my decision to seek election to the MMSD Board of Education in late fall 2005. Your help in getting elected, your support during tough times, and your help in finding solutions to problems, have made a great difference to my service on the board.

I am writing to let you know that I will not seek re-election in 2012. I continue to believe that the Board of Education is one of the most important elected positions for our community and its schools, and encourage others to step forward to serve in this capacity. MMSD is facing significant challenges, and it is more important than ever that thoughtful citizens engage in the work that will be needed to preserve the traditional strengths of our public schools while helping those schools to change in keeping with the times and the families that they serve.

At the same time, I do not view school board service as a career, and believe that turnover in membership is healthy for the organization and for the district. I have been fortunate to have had an opportunity to serve on this board, and to work with many fine community organizations in that capacity. For that I am grateful.

Again, thank you for your interest, support, and collegiality.

Lucy J. Mathiak
716 Orton Ct.
Madison, WI 53703

Madison School Board
Seat #2

I am appreciative of Lucy's tireless and often thankless work on behalf of our students.

Every organization - public or private, deteriorates. It is often easier to spend more (raise taxes), raise fees on consumers - or a "rate base", reduce curricular quality and in general go along and get along than to seek substantive improvements. Change is hard.

Citizens who seek facts, ask difficult and uncomfortable questions are essential for strong institutions - public or private. Progress requires conflict.

Yet, very few of us are willing to step into the theatre, spend time, dig deep and raise such questions. I am thankful for those, like Lucy, who do.

Her years of activism and governance have touched numerous issues, from the lack of Superintendent oversight (related: Ruth Robarts) (that's what a board does), the District's $372M+ budget priorities and transparency to substantive questions about Math, reading and the endless battle for increased rigor in the Madison Schools.

In closing, I had an opportunity to hear Peter Schneider speak during a recent Madison visit. Schneider discussed cultural differences and similarities between America and Germany. He specifically discussed the recent financial crisis. I paraphrase: "If I do not understand a financial vehicle, I buy it". "I create a financial product that no one, including me, understands, I sell it". This is "collective ignorance".

Schneider's talk reminded me of a wonderful Madison teacher's comments some years ago: "if we are doing such a great job, why do so few people vote and/or understand civic and business issues"?

What, then, is the payoff of increased rigor and the pursuit of high standards throughout an organization? Opportunity.

I recently met a technical professional who works throughout the United States from a suburban Madison home. This person is the product of a very poor single parent household. Yet, high parental standards and rigorous academic opportunities at a somewhat rural Wisconsin high school and UW-Madison led to an advanced degree and professional opportunities.

It also led to a successful citizen and taxpayer. The alternative, as discussed in my recent conversation with Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is growth in those who don't contribute, but rather increase costs on society.

Lucy will be missed.

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Madison Math Circle for Middle & High School Students

Gheorghe Craciun, via a kind email:

We have started the "Madison Math Circle" for interested middle and high school students (please see more details below, or at ), but we are having some trouble advertising it.

Prof. Steffen Lempp told me that you might be able to help us.

Thank you very much!


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October 17, 2011

Fran, Henderson & Pingry, and Me: A Tale of Problems vs Exercises

Barry Garelick, via email:

Fran, by Way of Introduction

My high school algebra 2 class which I had in the fall of 1964, was notable for a number of things. One was learning how to solve word problems. Another was a theory that most problems we encountered in algebra class could be solved with arithmetic. Yet another was a girl named Fran who I had a crush on.

Fran professed to not like algebra or the class we were in, and found word problems difficult. On a day I had occasion to talk to her, I tried to explain my theory that algebra was like arithmetic but easier. Admittedly, my theory had a bit more to go. She appeared to show some interest, but she wasn't interested. On another occasion I asked her to a football game, but she said she was washing her hair that day. Although Fran had long and beautiful black hair, and I wanted to believe that she had a careful and unrelenting schedule for washing it, I resigned myself to the fact that she would remain uninterested in me, algebra, and any theories about the subject.

My theory of arithmetic vs. algebra grew from a realization I had during that the problems that were difficult for me years ago when I was in elementary school were now incredibly easy using algebra. For example: $24 is 30% of what amount? In arithmetic this involved setting up a proportion while in algebra, it translated directly to 24 = 0.3x, thus skipping the set up of the ratio 24/30 = x/100. Similarly, it was now much easier to understand that an increase in cost by 25% of some amount could be represented as 1.25x. What had been problems before were now exercises; being able to express quantities algebraically made it obvious what was going on. It seemed I was on to something, but I wasn't quite sure what.

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October 16, 2011

Open Content Mathematics Curriculum

University of Puget Sound:

This is an evolving description of books and software that could be used to design a totally open undergraduate mathematics curriculum. This is meant to be a selective list, so you can consider these to be personal recommendations, not just links I've found promising. As such there will be a limited number of entries in each category. The first criteria in selecting texts is that preference will be given to those that are truly free - as in free to copy, free to modify, free to distribute, free to sell. For example, a text that prohibits commercial use does not have full freedom. Licensing terms are summarized for each item. The second criteria is that I have to have some reason to believe the text is accurate and has a selection of content that is in line with typical university courses.

First some comprehensive software, then lower-division (including introductory programming), concluding with upper-division (alphabetically by subject). Suggestions are encouraged, especially for empty categories or books you have used in a course, but inclusion is subject to the above discussion.

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October 15, 2011

50 percent of all high school courses will be taken online by 2019

Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn:

As a disruptive innovation--an innovation that transforms a sector from one that was previously complicated and expensive into one that is far simpler and more affordable--the rise of online learning carries with it an unprecedented opportunity to transform the schooling system into a student-centric one that can affordably customize for different student needs by allowing all students to learn at their appropriate pace and path, thereby allowing each student to realize her fullest potential.

Whether it does this in the coming years will depend on several variables.

Entrepreneurs and investors--both for-profit and non-profit--are doing their part, as they seek to fashion the future by solving the problems they see students and teachers struggling with today.

Some, like those at Los Altos School District and Rocketship Education, are creating new learning and schooling models and liberating students and teachers.

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October 14, 2011

State residents rank among most fiscally responsible

Paul Gores:

When it comes to creditworthiness, it's hard to top the consumers of Wisconsin.

Four Wisconsin cities - including Wausau at No. 1 - are among the 10 communities in the nation with the highest average credit scores, a new survey shows.

Wausau residents posted an average credit score of 789 in the survey conducted by the credit-rating agency Experian. Madison was third, at 785; Green Bay sixth, at 780; and La Crosse 10th, at 777.

Milwaukee, with a score of 765, was 33rd of 143 cities included in the survey.

"Wisconsin residents remain among the nation's most fiscally responsible," Experian stated Tuesday in announcing the survey results.

Higher credit scores generally give consumers the ability to borrow money at lower interest rates.

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October 4, 2011

Common-Core Math Standards Don't Add Up

Grant Wiggins, via a kind reader

There is little question in my mind that national standards will be a blessing. The crazy quilt of district and state standards will become more rational, student mobility will stop causing needless learning hardships, and the full talents of a nation of innovators will be released to develop a vast array of products and services at a scale that permits even small vendors to compete to widen the field to all educators' benefit.

That said, we are faced with a terrible situation in mathematics. In my view, unlike the English/language arts standards, the mathematics components of the Common Core State Standards Initiative are a bitter disappointment. In terms of their limited vision of math education, the pedestrian framework chosen to organize the standards, and the incoherent nature of the standards for mathematical practice in particular, I don't see how these take us forward in any way. They unwittingly reinforce the very errors in math curriculum, instruction, and assessment that produced the current crisis.

One wonders what became of the Madison School Districts Math Task Force?

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How Smartphones Could Revolutionize Scientific Experiments

Nick Clayton:

Cognitive psychology is, broadly, the study of mental processes almost as if the human mind was a type of computer. It is generally a highly empirical academic discipline relying on experimentation to study faculties such as language, attention and memory. It could be revolutionized by smartphones.

The current problem, according to a paper in peer-reviewed publication PLoS One, is that experiments usually rely on groups of volunteers coming to a research facility. By using smartphone technology instead, data could be collected from thousands of subjects across the world.

The paper comes from an international group of researchers who have been running a classic experiment which asks users to distinguish rapidly between words and non-words. (Its results can be used, for example, in the diagnosis of reading impairments.) Participants in the experiment downloaded a free app from iTunes to use on their iPhone or iPad.

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October 3, 2011

Bringing the Common Core State Mathematics Standards to Life

Hung-Hsi Wu, via Richard Askey:

Many sets of state and national mathematics stan- dards have come and gone in the past two decades. The Common Core State Mathematics Standards (CCSMS), which were released in June of 2010,*have been adopted by almost all states and will be phased in across the nation in 2014. Will this be another forgettable stan- dards document like the overwhelming majority of the others?

Perhaps. But unlike the others, it will be a travesty if this one is forgotten. The main difference between these standards and most of the others is that the CCSMS are mathematically very sound overall. They could serve--at long last--as the foundation for creating proper school mathematics textbooks and dramatically better teacher preparation.

Before the CCSMS came along, America long resisted the idea of commonality of standards and curriculum--but it did not resist such commonality in actual classrooms. Despite some politicians' rhetoric extolling the virtues of local control, there has been a de facto national mathematics curriculum for decades: the curriculum defined by the school mathematics textbooks. There are several widely used textbooks, but mathe- matically they are very much alike. Let's call this de facto math- ematics curriculum Textbook School Mathematics (TSM).1

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Math Curriculum: School District's Activities Should be an Open Book

Laurie Rogers:

Since January 2007, I've attempted repeatedly and in myriad ways to persuade Spokane Public Schools' leadership to provide teachers with good math materials so that our children will gain sufficient basic math skills. It's an effort you'd think would be welcome, respected, and relatively painless. Alas.

In 2008, after repeated failed efforts to get a conversation going with the district or with the daily newspaper, I decided to take that conversation public. Thus was born my blog, Betrayed. Shortly after that, I began writing my book, Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do about it. The book was published in January 2011, and shortly thereafter, I worked with two professionals to hold public forums in Spokane and talk directly with the people. The district leadership does not appear to appreciate my efforts to inform the people and try to get the children the mathematics they need.

A school district's activities should be an open book to the community that pays for them. My blog, book and advocacy all required thorough and accurate information. Therefore, over these nearly five years of effort, I've had to file public records requests with the district in order to obtain pertinent information that wasn't available in any other venue. For records other than internal district communications, my searches usually went like this:

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September 30, 2011

He shattered mathematics with a single number

Marcus Chown:

TWO plus two equals four: nobody would argue with that. Mathematicians can rigorously prove sums like this, and many other things besides. The language of maths allows them to provide neatly ordered ways to describe everything that happens in the world around us.

Or so they once thought. Gregory Chaitin, a mathematics researcher at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, has shown that mathematicians can't actually prove very much at all. Doing maths, he says, is just a process of discovery like every other branch of science: it's an experimental field where mathematicians stumble upon facts in the same way that zoologists might come across a new species of primate.

Mathematics has always been considered free of uncertainty and able to provide a pure foundation for other, messier fields of science. But maths is just as messy, Chaitin says: mathematicians are simply acting on intuition and experimenting with ideas, just like everyone else. Zoologists think there might be something new swinging from branch to branch in the unexplored forests of Madagascar, and mathematicians have hunches about which part of the mathematical landscape to explore. The subject is no more profound than that.

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September 23, 2011

Texas Students of all backgrounds outperform Wisconsin Students

Allison Sherry, via a kind reader's email

While Perry has been outspoken against the Common Core, he and his education commissioner have pulled the quality of Texas tests up to a level respected among education reformers. Test scores among kids of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are higher in Texas than in Wisconsin, for example, which has fewer students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunch.

Though Perry will probably make this point on the campaign trail, he's not likely to promise to take over the nation's schools. On the contrary, he'll likely pick up on his recent call to repeal No Child Left Behind and let states take charge of their education systems. In his book released last year, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry argues that Washington has taken power away from states. At a speech in November in Washington, Perry took aim at two of former President Bush's signature accomplishments, No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug benefit program, saying they were examples of areas in which Washington need not be.

"Those are both big government but more importantly, they were Washington-centric," he told the Dallas Morning News. "One size does not fit all, unless you're talking tube socks."

National Center for Education Statistics State Education Data Profiles.

much more at

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The Myth About Traditional Math Education

Barry Garelick, via email:

The education establishment commits to fads like group and collaborative learning, but Garelick says they shouldn't ignore and misinterpret traditional math.

Most discussions about mathematics and how best to teach it in the K-12 arena break down to the inevitable bromides about how math was traditionally taught and that such methods were ineffective. The conventional wisdom on the "traditional method" of teaching math is often heard as an opening statement at school board meetings during which parents are protesting the adoption of a questionable math program: "The traditional method of teaching math has failed thousands of students." A recent criticism I read expanded on this notion and said that it wasn't so much the content or the textbooks (though he states that they were indeed limited) but the teaching was "too rigid, too inflexible, too limited, and thus failed to adequately address the realities of educating a large, diverse, and rapidly changing population during decades of technological innovation and social upheaval."

There is some confusion when talking about "traditional methods" since traditional methods vary over time. Textbooks considered traditional for the last ten years, for example, are quite different than textbooks in earlier eras. For purposes of this discussion, I would like to confine "traditional" to methods and textbooks in use in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. And before we get to the question about teaching methods, I want to first talk about the textbooks in use during this time period. A glance at the textbooks that were in use over these years shows that mathematical algorithms and procedures were not taught in isolation in a rote manner as is frequently alleged. In fact, concepts and understanding were an important part of the texts. Below is an excerpt from a fifth grade text of the "Study Arithmetic" series (Knight, et. al. 1940):

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IXL Learning

Practice makes perfect, and IXL makes math practice fun! IXL allows teachers and parents to monitor the progress of their students and motivate them through interactive games and practice questions. Widely recognized as the Web's most comprehensive math site, IXL offers a dynamic and enjoyable environment for children to practice math. Students who use IXL are succeeding like never before.

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September 22, 2011

Rick Hess's Critique of Achievement-Gap Mania

By Reihan Salam
I've been eagerly awaiting the release of the latest issue of National Affairs, which includes Rick Hess's fascinating and at times provocative discussion, or perhaps I say "devastating takedown," of "achievement-gap mania." The following paragraph gives you a hint as to Hess's conclusion:

In essence, NCLB was an effort to link "conservative" nostrums of accountability to Great Society notions of "social justice." The result was a noble exercise hailed for its compassion. The sad truth, however, is that the whole achievement-gap enterprise has been bad for schooling, bad for most children, and bad for the nation.

I found his discussion of the neglect of advanced and gifted education particularly convincing, as well as his recounting of how the "delusion of rigor" has undermined quality control across many domains. Hess ends his essay with an accounting of where "achievement-gap mania" has left the politics of K-12.

(1) Reforming education has become someone else's problem:

First, achievement-gap mania has signaled to the vast majority of American parents that school reform isn't about their kids. They are now expected to support efforts to close the achievement gap simply because it's "the right thing to do," regardless of the implications for their own children's education. In fact, given that only about one household in five even contains school-age children -- and given that two-thirds of families with children do not live in underserved urban neighborhoods, or do not send their kids to public schools, or otherwise do not stand to benefit from the gap-closing agenda -- the result is a tiny potential constituency for achievement-gap reform, made up of perhaps 6% or 7% of American households.

Because middle-class parents and suburbanites have no personal stake in the gap-closing enterprise, reforms are tolerated rather than embraced. The most recent annual Gallup poll on attitudes toward schooling reported that just 20% of respondents said "improving the nation's lowest-performing schools" was the most important of the nation's education challenges. Indeed, while just 18% of the public gave American schools overall an A or a B, a sizable majority thought their own elementary and middle schools deserved those high grades. The implication is that most Americans, even those with school-age children, currently see education reform as time and money spent on other people's children.

(2) Reforming education for the majority of students who come non-poor families is seen as somehow unnecessary:

Second, achievement-gap mania has created a dangerous complacency, giving suburban and middle-class Americans the false sense that things are just fine in their own schools. Thus it's no surprise that professionals and suburbanites tend to regard "reforms" -- from merit pay to charter schooling -- as measures that they'll tolerate as long as they're reserved for urban schools, but that they won't stand for in their own communities. ...

Gap-closing strategies can be downright unhelpful or counterproductive when it comes to serving most students and families, and so can turn them off to education reform altogether. Longer school years and longer school days can be terrific for disadvantaged students or low achievers, but may be a recipe for backlash if imposed on families who already offer their kids many summer opportunities and extracurricular activities. Policies that seek to shift the "best" teachers to schools and classrooms serving low-achieving children represent a frontal assault on middle-class and affluent families. And responding to such concerns by belittling them is a sure-fire strategy for ensuring that school reform never amounts to more than a self-righteous crusade at odds with the interests of most middle-class families.

This is one reason why Hess rightly bristled at the crusader mentality that informs films like the recent Waiting for 'Superman.'

(3) Education reform has come to be associated with metrics that aren't particularly helpful for schools that serve non-poor students.

Third, achievement-gap mania has prompted reformers to treat schools as instruments to be used in crafting desired social outcomes, capable of being "fixed" simply through legislative solutions and federal policies. This tendency is hardly surprising, given that most of the thinking about achievement gaps is done in the context not of education reform but of "social justice." Thus gap-closers approach the challenge not as educators but as social engineers, determined to see schools fix the problems that job-training initiatives, urban redevelopment, income supports, and a slew of other well-intentioned government welfare programs have failed to address.

With the social engineer's calm assurance that there are clear, identifiable interventions to resolve every problem, today's education reformers insist that closing the achievement gap is a simple matter of identifying "what works" and then requiring schools to do it. And integral to determining "what works" has been evaluating different strategies in terms of their effects on reading and math scores and graduation rates. This approach has been especially popular when it comes to identifying good teachers. But while the ability to move these scores may be 90% of the job for an elementary-school teacher in Philadelphia or Detroit, it doesn't necessarily make sense to use these metrics to evaluate teachers in higher-performing schools -- where most children easily clear the literacy and numeracy bar, and where parents are more concerned with how well teachers develop their children's other skills and talents.

As Hess has argued elsewhere, what we really need is a more diverse ecology of specialized instructional providers tailored to meet the needs of individual students, including advanced and gifted students, rather than rigid carrot-and-stick systems designed to "fix" centralized command-and-control systems not by making them less centralized and command-and-control, but rather by issuing new commands from the center.

(4) This "what works" mentality, which implicitly assumes that there are a few simple nostrums that "work" in every or at least most cases, has proved a barrier to innovation:

Fourth, the achievement-gap mindset stifles innovation. When a nation focuses all its energies on boosting the reading and math scores of the most vulnerable students, there is neither much cause nor much appetite for developing and pursuing education strategies capable of improving American schools overall.

Consider the case of school choice. Today, for all the vague talk of innovation, charter schools and school vouchers rarely do more than allow poor, urban students to move from unsafe, horrific schools into better conventional-looking schools. The leading brands in charter schooling, for instance, almost uniformly feature traditional classrooms; an extended school day, school year, or both; and a reliance on directive pedagogy attuned to the needs of disadvantaged students. In other words, these are terrific 19th-century schools. One has to search long and hard among the nation's more than 5,000 charter schools to find the handful that are experimenting with labor-saving technologies, technology-infused instruction, or new staffing models better suited to the 21st century.

Furthermore, the intense focus on gap-closing has led to a notion of "innovation" dedicated almost entirely to driving up math and reading scores and graduation rates for low-income and minority students. Promising innovations that promote science, foreign-language learning, or musical instruction have garnered little public investment or acclaim. Even in terms of math and reading, there is not much interest in interventions that do not show up on standardized state assessments.

(5) And interestingly, Rick argues that gap-closing has dimmed interest in promoting racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.

As always, the essay is worth reading in full. I haven't done it justice.

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September 20, 2011

Rapid Improvments in K-12 Math Education Are Possible

Cliff Mass:

One of the most frustrating aspects of working on the improvement of math education is dealing with an educational establishment that makes decisions based on fads and opinions rather than empirical facts.

Now, let us accept that there are different approaches to teaching mathematics, with a major divide between the "reform, discovery approaches" and the more "traditional, direct instruction" approaches. Reform/discovery approaches became the rage among the educational community in the 1990s and I believe it is a major, but not sole, reason that math performance has lagged.

As a scientist, it would seem to me that the next step is clear: test a variety of curriculum approaches in the classroom, insuring the class demographics are similar, and find out what works best. In short, do a carefully controlled experiment with proper statistics and find the truth in an empirical way. But what frustrates me is that such experimentation is virtually never done by the educational bureaucracy. They seem to go from fad to fad and student progress suffers. Reform math, Integrated Math, Teach for America, Whole Language, and many more.

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September 14, 2011

Brainwave controllers: Put your thinking cap on

The Economist:

THE idea of moving objects with the power of the mind has fascinated mankind for millennia. At first it was the province of gods, then sorcerers and witches. In the late 19th century psychokinesis, as the trick then came to be known, became a legitimate object of study, as part of the nascent field of parapsychology, before falling into disrepute in the arch-rationalist 20th century. Since the 1990s, however, it has seen something of a revival, under a more scientifically acceptable guise.

There is nothing particularly magical about moving things with thoughts. Human beings perform the feat every time they move a limb, or breathe, by sending electrical impulses to appropriate muscles. If these electrical signals could be detected and interpreted, the argument goes, there is in principle no reason why they could not be used to steer objects other than the thinker's own body. Indeed, over the past two decades brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) which use electrodes implanted in the skull have enabled paralysed patients to control computer cursors, robotic arms and wheelchairs.

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September 11, 2011

Lies, damn lies and the myth of "standardized" tests

Marda Kirkwood:

[Note from Laurie Rogers: Recently, results from the 2011 state standardized test scores came out, and the general impression given to the public -- for example from the state education agency (OSPI) and from media in Seattle and in Spokane -- was that improvements had been made. It's all in the definitions: How do you define "improvement"? Did some of the numbers go up? Assuredly. Did that mean that real improvments in real academic knowledge had been made? It's best to remain skeptical.

Most students in Spokane are as weak in math skill this year as they were last year. Given a proper math test that assesses for basic skills, many high schoolers still test into 4th or 5th-grade math. College remedial rates are still high. Parents are still frantic, and students are still stressed out about math. So ... what do those higher scores actually mean? I've been trying to find out. It's hard to say.

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Building the largest Chess AI ever

Sylvain Zimmer:

Many people are familiar with the SETI@home project: a very large scale effort to search for patterns from alien civilizations in the ocean of data we receive from the sky, using the computing power of millions of computers around the globe ("the grid").

SETI@home has been a success, obviously not in finding aliens, but in demonstrating the potential of large-scale distributed computing. Projects like BOINC have been expanding this effort to other fields like biology, medicine and physics.

Last weekend, a team at Joshfire (Thomas, Nathan, Mickael and myself) participated in a 48-hour coding contest called Node Knockout. Rules were simple: code the most amazing thing you can in the weekend, as long as it uses server-side JavaScript.

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California's Math Pipeline: The Grade 7 Pivot Point


For students to be career- and college-ready when they complete high school, they must build a strong base of mathematics knowledge. The end of 7th grade provides an important moment to assess how prepared California's students are to succeed in the more advanced math curriculum that starts with algebra.

California's 1997 academic content standards in mathematics outline the stepping stones to algebra, and the Grade 7 Mathematics California Standards Test (CST) provides a benchmark measure of students' readiness.

In addition, 7th grade is the point where students' math course-taking paths clearly begin to diverge:

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September 9, 2011

Web of Science

Thompson Reuters:

Web of Science ® provides researchers, administrators, faculty, and students with quick, powerful access to the world's leading citation databases. Authoritative, multidisciplinary content covers over 10,000 of the highest impact journals worldwide, including Open Access journals and over 110,000 conference proceedings. You'll find current and retrospective coverage in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities, with coverage available to 1900.

Overcome information overload and focus on essential data across 256 disciplines.

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September 7, 2011

America is losing another generation to science illiteracy

Margaret Honey:

Steven Brill has it exactly right when he says that "our nation's economy, security, and core values depend on [the] success" of our public schools.

That's what President George W. Bush had in mind when he signed "No Child Left Behind" into law in 2001. Signaling his strong concerns about that legislation's shortcomings, it is also why Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced earlier this month that he would override the requirement under No Child Left Behind that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Mr. Duncan said he is waiving the law's proficiency requirements for states that have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and are making other strides toward better schools. Without the waivers, he said, 80 percent of American schools would get failing grades under the law.

But No Child Left Behind has an even more pernicious effect - it is discouraging the teaching of science courses, particularly at the elementary level, at a time when America needs them the most. What is more central to our current economy, security and core values than science? Where would we be without Google and Apple, stealth technology, gene-based therapy, and high-tech prosthetics?

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September 5, 2011

The Community of Math Teachers, from Elementary School to Graduate School

Sybilla Beckmann:

Why should mathematicians be in- terested and involved in pre-K-12 mathematics education? What are the benefits of mathematicians working with school teachers and mathematics educators?1 I will answer these questions from my perspective of research math- ematician who became interested in mathematics education, wrote a book for prospective elemen- tary teachers, and taught sixth-grade math a few years ago. I think my answers may surprise you because they would have surprised me not long ago.

It's Interesting!

If you had told me twenty-five years ago, when I was in graduate school studying arithmetic geometry, that my work would shift toward improving pre-K- 12 mathematics education, I would have told you that you were crazy. Sure, I would have said, that is important work, it's probably hard, and somebody needs to do it, but it doesn't sound very interesting. Much to my surprise, this is the work I am now fully engaged in. It's hard, and I believe what I'm doing is useful to improving education, but most surprising of all is how interesting the work is.

Yes, I find it interesting to work on improving pre-K-12 math! And in retrospect, it's easy to see how it could be interesting. Math at every level is beautiful and has a wonderful mixture of intri- cacy, big truths, and surprising connections. Even preschool math is no exception.

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September 4, 2011

Report: Florida's low-income tax credit students making academic gains

Jon East:

A new report on the academic performance of low-income students receiving Tax Credit Scholarships in Florida finds they are making modestly larger gains in reading and math than their counterparts in public school.

That conclusion from 2009-10 test data is encouraging for those of us who work to provide these learning options, which served 34,550 low-income students statewide last year. But the report, released today and written by respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio, is also a reminder of the inherent complexities of judging whether these programs work.

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August 28, 2011

Steps Toward Artificial Intelligence

Marvin Minsky:

The work toward attaining "artificial intelligence'' is the center of considerable computer research, design, and application. The
field is in its starting transient, characterized by many varied and independent efforts. Marvin Minsky has been requested to draw this work together into a coherent summary, supplement it with appropriate explanatory or theoretical noncomputer information, and introduce his assessment of the state of the art. This paper emphasizes the class of activities in which a general-purpose computer, complete with a library of basic programs, is further programmed to perform operations leading to ever higher-level information processing functions such as learning and problem solving. This informative article will be of real interest to both the general Proceedings reader and the computer specialist. -- The Guest Editor.

Summary: The problems of heuristic programming--of making computers solve really difficult problems--are divided into five main areas: Search, Pattern-Recognition, Learning, Planning, and Induction. Wherever appropriate, the discussion is supported by extensive citation of the literature and by descriptions of a few of the most successful heuristic (problem-solving) programs constructed to date.

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August 21, 2011

Why Math Works

Mario Livio:

Most of us take it for granted that math works--that scientists can devise formulas to describe subatomic events or that engineers can calculate paths for space­craft. We accept the view, initially espoused by Galileo, that mathematics is the language of science and expect that its grammar explains experimental results and even predicts novel phenomena.

The power of mathematics, though, is nothing short of astonishing. Consider, for example, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell's famed equations: not only do these four expressions summarize all that was known of electromagnetism in the 1860s, they also anticipated the existence of radio waves two decades before German physicist Heinrich Hertz detected them. Very few languages are as effective, able to articulate volumes' worth of material so succinctly and with such precision. Albert Einstein pondered, "How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?"

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August 17, 2011

Globally Challenged: Wisconsin Lags 12 States & Numerous Countries in Math Proficiency

Paul E Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, Eric A. Hanushek, Carlos X. Lastra-Anadon, via a Chan Stroman email:

Given recent school-related political conflicts in Wisconsin, it is of interest that only 42 percent of that state's white students are proficient in math, a rate no better than the national average.

At a time of persistent unemployment, especially among the less skilled, many wonder whether our schools are adequately preparing students for the 21st-century global economy. This is the second study of student achievement in global perspective prepared under the auspices of Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG).

In the 2010 PEPG report, "U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective," the focus was on the percentage of U.S. public and private school students performing at the advanced level in mathematics.1 The current study continues this work by reporting the percentage of public and private school students identified as at or above the proficient level (a considerably lower standard of performance than the advanced level) in mathematics and reading for the most recent cohort for which data are available, the high-school graduating Class of 2011.

Proficiency in Mathematics
U.S. students in the Class of 2011, with a 32 percent proficiency rate in mathematics, came in 32nd among the nations that participated in PISA. Although performance levels among the countries ranked 23rd to 31st are not significantly different from that of the United States, 22 countries do significantly outperform the United States in the share of students reaching the proficient level in math.

In six countries plus Shanghai and Hong Kong, a majority of students performed at the proficient level, while in the United States less than one-third did. For example, 58 percent of Korean students and 56 percent of Finnish students were proficient. Other countries in which a majority--or near majority--of students performed at or above the proficient level included Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands. Many other nations also had math proficiency rates well above that of the United States, including Germany (45 percent), Australia (44 percent), and France (39 percent).

Much more at

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August 15, 2011

Double degree adds up for Hong Kong maths prodigy

Peter So:

The wonderkid who at nine became the city's youngest undergraduate four years ago completed his bachelor's and master's programme this week at the age of 13.

March Boedihardjo will now head off to the United States for a research programme and, possibly, a doctorate. The youngster was admitted to Baptist University's double-degree programme in mathematical science in 2007, finishing it in four years - a year early. March said he really enjoyed his university years, despite earlier concerns about how such a young boy would adapt to the life.

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August 11, 2011

Judge rules Memphis city schools to merge with county

Bill Mears:

Public schools in Memphis, Tennessee, will be consolidated with those of the surrounding county beginning in 2013-14, a federal judge ruled Monday. The decision ends for now a yearslong fight over funding that spilled into questions of race and politics.

The 146-page ruling from Judge Hardy Mays was prompted by a lawsuit and subsequent voter referendum in March that dissolved the Memphis City Schools charter.

"The Memphis City Schools has been abolished for all purposes except the winding down of its operations and the transfer of administration to the Shelby County Board of Education under the terms of Public Chapter 1 and Tennessee education law," wrote Mays. He said the surrender of the city charter did not affect the validity of the city board's actions up until now.

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August 7, 2011

Business Schools Plan Leap Into Data

Melissa Korn & Shara Tibken:

Faced with an increasing stream of data from the Web and other electronic sources, many companies are seeking managers who can make sense of the numbers through the growing practice of data analytics, also known as business intelligence. Finding qualified candidates has proven difficult, but business schools hope to fill the talent gap.

This fall several schools, including Fordham University's Graduate School of Business and Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, are unveiling analytics electives, certificates and degree programs; other courses and programs were launched in the previous school year.

International Business Machines Corp., which has invested more than $14 billion buying analytics industry companies such as Coremetrics and Netezza Corp. since 2005, has teamed up with more than 200 schools, including Fordham, to develop analytics curriculum and training.

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August 6, 2011

The Kapors' SMASH Academy is filling an education gap

Mike Cassidy:

Give a kid a chance and you'll be amazed at what happens next.
That thought kept rolling through my mind as I surveyed the controlled chaos that was lunch for 80 teenagers who'd moved onto Stanford's campus to take five summer weeks of intensive math and science courses.

I know. What's so different about a passel of brilliant kids studying hard stuff at Stanford?

Well, for one thing, a pessimist might look at these particular kids working their way through hamburgers, chicken and mashed potatoes, and conclude that they are not college material. In fact, the vast majority of them would be the first in their families to go to college. Nearly all of them attend high schools where most students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. Some live in tough neighborhoods. Some dodge gangs on the way to and from school -- and maybe even at school.

But that's not what defines them. Not at all. The kids at Stanford, members of the inaugural class of the Silicon Valley version of the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH), are energetic, optimistic, determined, resourceful and approaching brilliant.

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July 27, 2011

At Sleepaway Camp, Math Is Main Sport

Rachel Cromidas

As camps go, the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving might sound like a recipe for misery: six hours of head-scratching math instruction each day and nights in a college dorm far from home.But Mattie Williams, 13, who attends Middle School 343 in the Bronx, was happy to attend, giving up summer barbecues with her parents and afternoons in the park with her Chihuahua, Pepsi. She and 16 other adolescents are spending three weeks at Bard College here in a free, new camp for low-income students who are gifted in mathematics.

All are entering eighth grade at New York City public middle schools where at least 75 percent of the student body is eligible for free lunches. And all love math. At this camp, asking "What kind of math do you like, algebra or geometry?" is considered an appropriate icebreaker, and invoking the newly learned term "the multiplication principle" elicits whoops and high-fives.

In a Bard classroom one afternoon, it seemed for a moment that Arturo Portnoy had stumped everyone. Dr. Portnoy, a math professor visiting from the University of Puerto Rico, posed this question: "The length of a rectangle is increased by 10 percent and the width is decreased by 10 percent. What percentage of the old area is the new area?" The 17 campers whispered and scribbled. One crumpled his paper into a ball. Mattie Williams may have looked as if she was doodling as she drew dozens of tiny rectangles in her notebook, but she was hard at work on the problem, which was taken from the American Mathematics Competitions, a contest series known for its difficulty. In less than 10 minutes, she had the answer -- 99 percent -- and was ready for the next question.

For some schoolchildren, mathematics is a competitive sport, and summer is the time for training -- poring over test-prep books, taking practice exams and attending selective math camps. But for students who cannot afford such programs, or have not been exposed to many advanced math concepts, the avenues to new skills are limited.

Daniel Zaharopol, the director of the camp at Bard, is trying to change that. He has brought four math educators to the Bard campus to teach the middle school students concepts as varied as number theory and cryptography. Among the instructors is Mr. Portnoy, a director of the Puerto Rico Mathematical Olympiads. The camp is financed by the Art of Problem Solving Foundation, the nonprofit arm of an online school that promotes math education for gifted students. Classes meet in two-hour sessions and cover topics including voting theory, graph theory, and math and the arts.

The point of the program, Mr. Zaharopol said, is not to offer remedial instruction to struggling students, but rather to challenge those who already excel. He also hopes to prepare students to participate in competitions and independent math seminars called math circles, where low-income students are typically underrepresented. "These are students who have a tremendous amount of potential and are really ready for a lot more than they're able to get in schools," said Mr. Zaharopol, who has master's degrees in mathematics and teaching mathematics.

But they may lack some basic preparation, he said. "If these students had just gone to the New York City Math Circle this summer, they would have felt like a fish out of water," he said. "They wouldn't have the same mathematical background and experience as their peers."

It is common for young people who later specialize in mathematical fields to begin studying advanced math concepts before they reach high school. But Andrew Brantlinger, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland who has researched secondary-school math education, sees the math pipeline as "overwhelmingly nondiverse." "There are very few women, people of color and people from low-income backgrounds," Dr. Brantlinger said. A summer program designed to address such an achievement gap can be valuable in theory, he said, but might not be able to accomplish enough in a short time.

Zvezdelina Stankova, a professor of mathematics at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., who directs the Berkeley Math Circle at the University of California, Berkeley, said she had observed the same problem. "Just like it takes years for a basketball player to develop themselves and get to the professional league, it's the same for mathematicians," Dr. Stankova said. "By and large they have done something exceptional before they get into college."

Jeffrey Pereira, 20, one of the math camp counselors, said he was trying to impress on the campers the value of their studying math independently, so they will not simply sit back and coast through classes that come easy to them when they return to school in September. "In middle school, my experience with math was basically, everything was really easy to me," said Mr. Pereira, who attended public school in the Bronx and is now a math major at Bard. "Some of the things they're doing here, I haven't seen in college yet." Besides helping the campers during classes, Mr. Pereira plays puzzle games with them during free time.

For Mattie, evenings spent socializing at the two-story residence hall where the students and counselors live have made the camp feel less like a school and more like a home away from home. Outside of class time, the math whizzes can hike or lounge in the computer lab. And at least among the 10 girls, conversations are more often about what to wear the next day (one recent day, they all agreed to wear blue) than the merits of a particular counting system. "The first night we all sat in each other's rooms and talked about what we wanted to do, and how, oh, I miss my mom, I miss my dad," Mattie said. "Then we had a pillow fight."

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July 26, 2011

US Education Perspective from a Tech CEO

The Financial Times:

Kevin Johnson, chief executive of Juniper Networks, one of the biggest network equipment makers, talks to the FT's Paul Taylor about cloud computing, innovation, video and his worries about the failure of the US education system to produce home-grown talent

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Top teacher: An Honor for Worcester South High's Joseph Nystrom

James Niedzinski:

If you are passing through the halls of South High Community School in Worcester, you can always catch Joseph N. Nystrom as he high-fives students, cracks a joke and picks up crumpled pieces of paper in the hallway.

A teacher at South High for about 10 years, Mr. Nystrom is well-known for actions that grab students' attention in an effort to focus them on learning and achievement. He started out as a substitute teacher and ended up making it his career.

He is the recent recipient of the All American Teacher of the Year Award, in the Massachusetts math division. He is one of 23 U.S. teachers honored by the National Math and Science Initiative. The awards recognize outstanding math, science and English teachers in NMSI's Advanced Placement training and incentive program.

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July 20, 2011

STEM Competition


Submit your solutions, or nominate a project for this competition, before August 3, 2011, to create new opportunities for students and schools.

Please join us in congratulating the early-entry-prize winners for the competition!

STEM Lending Library and Resource Center
CONNECT-ED: Professional Development in Science and Mathematics
Out in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
Careerspotting 4 Kids

Remember, the deadline for all entries is 5PM EDT, August 3, 2011. Submit your entry to be eligible for the following prizes:

Winners Prizes: All entries must be submitted by 5PM EDT, August 3, 2011, to be eligible for the following prizes:

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July 12, 2011

Teaching Math Right

Conrad Wolfram Video.

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July 7, 2011

Writing About Math

Dan Berrett:

When course requirements at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shifted 10 years ago, faculty members in the mathematics department found themselves with a new task in their job description. Not only did they have to teach their students to solve equations; they also had to instruct them in writing and communicating effectively on the subject.

This change in duties -- which mirrored similar shifts in the teaching of discipline-specific writing at other institutions -- gave rise to a host of new challenges, from the administrative to the pedagogic, said Haynes Miller, professor of math at MIT. The math faculty there had to learn how to teach the subject from a different perspective -- one in which words, not just numbers and symbols, are given emphasis.

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July 4, 2011

Advocating Teacher Content Knowledge: Lessons From Finland #1 - Teacher Education and Training

Bob Compton:

One of the many things I learned producing my film The Finland Phenomenon, was the importance of setting a very high standard for the education and training of teachers.

Finland's high school teachers are required to have both a Bachelors and Masters degree in the subject they teach (e.g. - math, physics, history, etc) combined with one-year of pedagogical training with very heavy emphasis in real classroom teaching experience under the guidance of an outstanding seasoned teacher.

By contrast, most U.S. States require only a Bachelors degree from a college of education with an emphasis in the subject to be taught - and frequently that subject matter is taught by professors in the Education School, not in the actual subject department. Think of it as content and rigor "light" for teachers.

So, what should America do to apply this obvious lesson from Finland? My thoughts:

1- each U.S. State needs to cut off the supply of teachers not sufficiently prepared to teach this generation at its source. The source is colleges of education. A State legislature and Governor can change the requirements to be a teacher in their State. All it takes is courage to withstand the screams from colleges of education - the sacred cash cow of most universities.

2- To teach at the high school level, a State should require the prospective teacher to have at least an undergraduate degree in the subject they plan to teach and from the department that teaches that subject (e.g. - teaching math? Require a B.S. from the Math department).

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July 2, 2011

Winners and losers in the Apple economy

Chrystia Freeland

Once upon a time, the car was the key to understanding the U.S. economy. Then it was the family home. Nowadays, it is any device created by Steven P. Jobs. Call it the Apple economy, and if you can figure out how it works, you will have a good handle on how technology and globalization are redistributing money and jobs around the world.

That was the epiphany of Greg Linden, Jason Dedrick and Kenneth L. Kraemer, a troika of scholars who have made a careful study in a pair of recent papers of how the iPod has created jobs and profits around the world. The latest paper, "Innovation and Job Creation in a Global Economy: The Case of Apple's iPod," was published last month in The Journal of International Commerce and Economics.

One of their findings is that in 2006 the iPod employed nearly twice as many people outside the United States as it did in the country where it was invented -- 13,920 in the United States, and 27,250 abroad.

You probably aren't surprised by that result, but if you are American, you should be a little worried. That is because Apple is the quintessential example of the Yankee magic everyone from Barack Obama to Michele Bachmann insists will pull America out of its job crisis -- the remarkable ability to produce innovators and entrepreneurs. But today those thinkers and tinkerers turn out to be more effective drivers of job growth outside the United States than they are at home.

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June 30, 2011

Florida Leads the Nation in the Percentage of High School Students Enrolled in High Level Classes; Some States Still Leave Low-Income Students Behind; Others Make Surprising Gains

by Sharona Coutts and Jennifer LaFleur:

Florida is a state of stark contrasts. Travel a few miles from the opulent mansions of Miami Beach and you reach desperately poor neighborhoods. There's the grinding poverty of sugar cane country and the growing middle class of Jacksonville. All told, half the public-school students in Florida qualify for subsidized lunches. Many are the first in their families to speak English or contemplate attending college.

In many states, those economic differences are reflected in the classroom, with students in wealthy schools taking many more advanced courses.

The Opportunity Gap

But not in Florida. A ProPublica analysis of previously unreleased federal data shows that Florida leads the nation in the percentage of high-school students enrolled in high-level classes--Advanced Placement and advanced math. That holds true across rich and poor districts.

Studies repeatedly have shown that students who take advanced classes have greater chances of attending and succeeding in college.

Our analysis identifies several states that, like Florida, have leveled the field and now offer rich and poor students roughly equal access to high-level courses.

In Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma, by contrast, such opportunities are far less available in districts with poorer families.

That disparity is part of what experts call the "opportunity gap."

Wisconsin's results are here, while Madison's are here.

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June 28, 2011

US Teachers' Instructional Hours Among the Longest

Phil Izzo:

Students across the U.S. are enjoying or getting ready for summer vacation, but teachers may be looking forward to the break even more. American teachers are the most productive among major developed countries, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data from 2008 -- the most recent available.

Among 27 member nations tracked by the OECD, U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom -- among the lowest among the countries tracked. That was more than 100 hours more than New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.

And that's just the time teachers spend on instruction. Including hours teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom, American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays).
Curriculum is certainly worth a hard look.

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June 26, 2011

Science's 10 hottest fields

Clive Cookson:

Understanding the genome

The sequencing of the 6 billion chemical "letters" of human DNA was completed in draft in 2000 and in final form in 2003. But clinical benefits have arrived more slowly than the initial hype suggested. This is mainly because the human genome actually works in a much more complex way than predicted by the late-20th-century model.

Twenty-first-century research shows that we have only 21,000 genes, one-fifth of the number predicted when the project started, and that just 1.5 per cent of the genome consists of conventional protein-coding genes. Efforts are under way to understand the vital regulatory and other functions of the non-coding regions of the genome, once dismissed wrongly as "junk DNA".

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Encouraging Mathematical Thinking in Gifted Kids

Carol Fertig:

Parents, do you want to encourage your young people to think mathematically this summer and beyond? Here are some ways to accomplish that.


Nurturing Mathematically Talented Preschoolers-In this blog entry, Natasha Chen shares her experience on parenting a mathematically precocious child. The author acknowledges that it can be difficult to find a program for three- to five-year-olds, so she offers some tips that she has found useful. Her suggestions include

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June 24, 2011

A growing number of skeptics wonder whether college is worth the time or the cost

Bill Gross:

A mind is a precious thing to waste, so why are millions of America's students wasting theirs by going to college? All of us who have been there know an undergraduate education is primarily a four year vacation interrupted by periodic bouts of cramming or Google plagiarizing, but at least it used to serve a purpose. It weeded out underachievers and proved at a minimum that you could pass an SAT test. For those who made it to the good schools, it proved that your parents had enough money to either bribe administrators or hire SAT tutors to increase your score by 500 points. And a degree represented that the graduate could "party hearty" for long stretches of time and establish social networking skills that would prove invaluable later on at office cocktail parties or interactively via Facebook. College was great as long as the jobs were there.

Now, however, a growing number of skeptics wonder whether it's worth the time or the cost. Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and head of Clarium Capital, a long-standing hedge fund, has actually established a foundation to give 20 $100,000 grants to teenagers who would drop out of school and become not just tech entrepreneurs but world-changing visionaries. College, in his and the minds of many others, is stultifying and outdated - overpriced and mismanaged - with very little value created despite the bump in earnings power that universities use as their raison d'être in our modern world of money.

Fact: College tuition has increased at a rate 6% higher than the general rate of inflation for the past 25 years, making it four times as expensive relative to other goods and services as it was in 1985. Subjective explanation: University administrators have a talent for increasing top line revenues via tuition, but lack the spine necessary to upgrade academic productivity. Professorial tenure and outdated curricula focusing on liberal arts instead of a more practical global agenda focusing on math and science are primary culprits.

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June 23, 2011

Investing? With Kids? That's A Good One

Karen Blumenthal:

Amid the frantic pace of daily family life, it seems almost comical to try to find time to discuss investing with our kids.

Honestly, who really wants to talk about mutual funds in the precious time you have when you're all together?

Yet, many families find a way to share their values about money and investing from generation to generation, whether they're offering tips on being smart shoppers, making the family budget stretch just enough or opening brokerage or savings accounts for youngsters.

In my Getting Going column, in honor of Father's Day, I reflected on the lessons I learned from my father and my grandfather.

They came from very different generations, one influenced by the Great Depression, the other by the growth and prosperity of the 1950s and '60s. One believed in bonds and the other in stocks. Together, they introduced me to the basics of investing--and more importantly, to how to keep the whole process in perspective. While my style is different from either of theirs-( have less tolerance for risk than my dad, but more than my grandfather had-their advice continues to resonate as I plan for my own future.

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June 10, 2011

CyberPatriot: High School Cyber Defense Competition

Air Force Association:

CyberPatriot is the National High School Cyber Defense Competition created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to excite, educate, and motivate the next generation of cyber defenders and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates our nation needs.

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June 4, 2011

Madison School District Math Task Force Update

Lisa Wachtel, Executive Director of Curriculum and Assessment Sarah Lord, Mathematics Teacher Leader (2010-2011) Jeff Ziegler, Mathematics Teacher Leader (2011-2012) Grant Goettl, Middle School Math Specialist Resource Teacher Laura Godfrey, Mathematics Resource Teacher:

During the 2010-2011 school year, the Mathematics Division of Curriculum and Assessment (C&A) focused on implementing recommendations regarding Middle School Mathematics Specialists. Additionally, progress has been made in working towards consistent district-wide resources at the high school level.

Recommendations #1 - #5:
Recommendations #1-#5 focus on increasing mathematical knowledge for teaching in MMSD 's middle school teachers of mathematics. These recommendations address our workforce, hiring practices, professional development, partnerships with the UW and work with the Wisconsin DPI to change certification requirements.

The C&A Executive Director, C&A Assistant Director, Deputy Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and Mathematics Instructional Resource Teacher met with Human Resources to discuss the implementation of the district-wide expectation for the hiring and retention of Math Specialists. This team created wording to be inserted into all middle school positions that state expectations for teachers involved in teaching mathematics.

The Mathematics Instructional Resource Teacher from Curriculum and Assessment has visited middle schools across Madison to share information with teaching staff and answer questions regarding the Middle School Math Specialist professional development program and the associated expectation for middle school teachers of mathematics. The resource teacher has also met with the Middle School Math Leadership Academy, and the Learning Coordinators to share information and answer questions. A website was created to provide easy access to the needed information. (A copy of the website is attached as Appendix E.)

The Middle School Math Specialist Advisory group that includes UW Mathematics, UW Mathematics Education, Education Outreach and Partnerships, and Madison Metropolitan School District has met throughout the year to provide updates, guidance to the development of the Math Specialist program, and continual feedback on the courses and implementation.

The first cohort of classes in the Middle School Math Specialist program being offered at UW-Madison began in August of20!0. During the first year, the three courses were co-taught by representatives from UW-Mathematics (Shirin Malekpour), UW- ( Mathematics Education (Meg Meyer), and MMSD (Grant Goettl). A total of22 MMSD teachers participated, with seven completing one course, two completing two courses, and ten completing all three offered courses. The topics of study included number properties, proportional reasoning, and geometry.

The first cohort will continue into their second year with eleven participants. The topics of study will include algebra and conjecture. The first cohort will complete the five course sequence in the spring of 2012.

The second cohort is currently being recruited. Advertising for this cohort began in March and sign-up began in April. This cohort will begin coursework in August of 2011. In the first year they will participate in three courses including the study of number properties, proportional reasoning, and geometry. This cohort will complete the five course sequence in the spring of 2013.

The tentative plan for facilitation of the 2011-2012 courses is as follows:

Much more on the Math Task Force, here.

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June 2, 2011

STEM: Changemakers Competition due 8/3/2011

Carnegie Corporation of New York:

Solving the world's most pressing challenges will require innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (also called STEM). From climate change to fiscal meltdowns, renewable energy to eradicating diseases, from food security to global and local health, the STEM disciplines are at the very center of our quest to improve our lives and the condition of our world.

If we are to bring new ideas to long-standing problems and new talent to emerging opportunities, we need to educate all of our young people to higher levels of understanding in the STEM fields. Despite the heroic efforts of our nation's best teachers and principals, our schools are ill-equipped to do that: According to international comparisons, U.S. students ranked below 22 countries in science and below 30 countries in math. And yet our communities are filled with many of the world's most talented professionals in these fields. They work in hospitals, universities, and museums; biotech, engineering, and architecture firms; graphic-design and urban-planning studios; hedge funds, banks, and computer-software, gaming, and pharmaceutical companies. They just rarely directly impact our public schools.

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Math scholarship started by McFarland woman is rare in bad economy

Matthew DeFour:

In 1964, Sue Kosmo was a high school senior who loved pizza, Pepsi and precalculus, when her parents encouraged her to invest in the stock market.

With a $54 tax return from her part-time bakery job making 75 cents per hour, she bought one share in something familiar -- a cola company marketing itself to a younger generation.

Almost half a century and several stock splits later, Kosmo is cashing in her investment, now worth $10,000, to start a scholarship fund at McFarland High School for young women who excel in math.

The story got the attention of executives at Pepsi, which is donating another $10,000 to Kosmo's scholarship fund.

Local businesses and residents provide more than $1 million a year in scholarships to local college-bound students, though the recent economic downturn has dampened donations somewhat, according to local officials who coordinate local scholarships.

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May 31, 2011

MIT Supporting High School Science Sims


Stacie Bumgarner is a research scientist in the Biology Department at MIT. She leads school outreach efforts for the Office of Educational Innovation & Technology. She is working with JFY Networks to expand the use of two sophisticated science simulations to high school students in Boston:

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May 29, 2011

Call for revolution in English teaching: Professor says multilingual teachers who grew up speaking Cantonese provide a better model for Hong Kong children than native English speakers

John Carney:

English should be taught in Hong Kong by multilingual teachers, not native English speakers, according to a Hong Kong education professor who is organising an international conference on English as a lingua franca, being held in the city.

"It's a revolutionary shift that we're arguing for, and it's that the multilingual way becomes the linguistic model for teaching kids English here, not that of a native English speaker," says Andy Kirkpatrick, chair professor of English as a professional language at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

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May 15, 2011


Ian Stewart:

Biology used to be about plants, animals and insects, but five great revolutions have changed the way that scientists think about life: the invention of the microscope, the systematic classification of the planet's living creatures, evolution, the discovery of the gene and the structure of DNA. Now, a sixth is on its way - mathematics.

Maths has played a leading role in the physical sciences for centuries, but in the life sciences it was little more than a bit player, a routine tool for analysing data. However, it is moving towards centre stage, providing new understanding of the complex processes of life.

The ideas involved are varied and novel; they range from pattern formation to chaos theory. They are helping us to understand not just what life is made from, but how it works, on every scale from molecules to the entire planet - and possibly beyond.

The biggest revolution in modern biology was the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which turned genetics into a branch of chemistry, centred on a creature's genes - sequences of DNA code that specify the proteins from which the gene is made. But when attention shifted to what genes do in an organism, the true depth of the problem of life became ever more apparent. Listing the proteins that make up a cat does not tell us everything we want to know about cats.

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May 11, 2011

In an improbable corner of China, young scientists are rewriting the book on genome research.

Lone Frank:

Lab technicians at the Beijing Genomics Institute in Shenzhen, China. Clockwise from upper left: Zhi Wei Luo; Wan Ling Li; Zi Long Zhang; and Yu Zhu Xu.

The world's largest genome-mapping facility is in an unlikely corner of China. Hidden away in a gritty neighborhood in Shenzhen's Yantian district, surrounded by truck-repair shops and scrap yards prowled by chickens, Beijing's most ambitious biomedical project is housed in a former shoe factory.

But the modest gray exterior belies the state-of-the-art research inside. In immaculate, glass-walled and neon-lit rooms resembling intensive care units, rows of identical machines emit a busy hum. The Illumina HiSeq 2000 is a top-of-the-line genome-sequencing machine that carries a price tag of $500,000. There are 128 of them here, flanked by rows of similar high-tech equipment, making it possible for the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) to churn out more high quality DNA-sequence data than all U.S. academic facilities put together.

"Genes build the future," announces a poster on the wall, and there is no doubt that China has set its eye on that future. This year, Forbes magazine estimated that the genomics market will reach $100 billion over the next decade, with scientists analyzing vast quantities of data to offer new ways to fight disease, feed the world, and harness microbes for industrial purposes. "The situation in genomics resembles the early days of the Internet," says Harvard geneticist George Church, who advises BGI and a number of American genomics companies. "No one knows what will turn out to be the killer apps." Companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Intel have already invested in genomics, seeing the field as an extension of their own businesses--data handling and management. "The big realization is that biology has become an information science," says Dr. Yang Huanming, cofounder and president of BGI. "If we accept that [genomics] builds on the digitalization of life, then all kinds of genetic information potentially holds value."

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May 8, 2011

Failing Our Children: Wisconsin's Deficit in Teaching Personal Finance and Economics

Scott Niederjohn:

Given the importance of economic and financial education, one might expect to find these subjects emphasized in Wisconsin's K-12 schools. Other states are ahead of Wisconsin. Twenty-one states now require high school students to take an economics course; thirteen states require students to take a personal finance course. In Wisconsin, neither is required, so few Wisconsin high school students take a course in economics or personal finance, and few teachers are qualified to teach one.

This widespread disregard has real consequences. The financial crisis from which our nation is currently recovering illustrates some of these, having arisen in part from ill-considered decisions by financially illiterate consumers of credit. For American workers, moreover, the trend away from defined-benefit pensions toward defined-contribution pensions places increasing investment responsibilities in the hands of individuals.

Evidence suggests that improvement will be a challenge. Surveys and assessments of economic and financial education generally yield dismal results. Americans are neither confident in their skills in these areas nor do they perform well on tests of knowledge. Their lack of economic and financial savvy plays out variously -- for example, in the lives of large numbers of Americans who find themselves "unbanked" and reliant on dubious sources of financial services such as payday-loan stores and check-cashing outlets. College students, meanwhile, rack up record levels of credit-card and student-loan debt.

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May 3, 2011

Teachers Bring Science to Life, Sponsored by Rayovac

Science & Technology Institute, via a kind reader's email:

Do you know a teacher who brings learning to life? Whether you're a student, parent, teacher or school administrator, you can nominate your K-6 teacher for a chance to win an all-expense paid trip to Science in the Rockies, Steve Spangler's three-day hands-on science teacher training in Denver.

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April 28, 2011

How to Blend Math

Tom Vander Ark

Most schools are looking for ways to boost achievement and save money. Blended learning is part of the solution. Blended learning is an intentional shift to an online environment for at least a portion of the student day to boost learning and operating productivity. Math is a great place for a school or district to introduce blended learning because it:

facilitates individualized progress
leverages great math teachers
takes advantage of quality math content (open & proprietary)
can be augmented by games and tutorials

School of One, a pilot middle grade math program in New York City, is a good example of multiple modes of instruction aligned with an assessment framework. An early example of a smart recommendation engine creates a unique schedule for each student every day. This important pilot project introduced the idea of a customized learning playlist, but it has not attempted to improve operating productivity.

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April 27, 2011

Drop tedious ICT lessons, says Intellect Time for education to grow up and start teaching kids the meaning of computing...

Natasha Lomas, via a James Dias email:

There have been fresh calls for schools to dump the dull ICT lessons that are turning kids off IT and failing to create the type of IT-savvy employees that UK businesses need.

Earlier this year, a discussion forum on digital skills heard from a BCS member and IT teacher that pupils and teachers are "bored rigid" by ICT lessons in their present form.

Intellect, the trade body for the UK's tech sector, has now called on the government to drop ICT lessons in their current form from the national curriculum and replace them with ones that focus on higher-value computer science skills. The organisation was submitting its response to a Department of Education review of the National Curriculum in England, launched in January this year.

ICT should also be taught by embedding interactive and multimedia technology across every subject, according to Intellect - which believes technology businesses could play a role here to help teachers make the best use of relevant equipment by supporting training.

Intellect reckons the ICT curriculum is too focused on teaching pupils how to use a limited number of software packages and is therefore failing to inspire students to develop more advanced computer skills.

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April 23, 2011

Trading the corporate world for the classroom

Susan Troller:

Physicist, neuroscience entrepreneur and businessman, Jon Joseph traded the money and prestige of a flourishing career in corporate America for the opportunity to teach high level calculus, computer science and physics to high school kids. He's doing his thing in the northern Green County community of New Glarus, teaching at a high school where there were exactly zero Advanced Placement courses less than 15 years ago.

A shortened version of his professional resume includes a Ph.D. in physics with a focus on neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While an assistant professor at UW, he founded the Biomagnetic Research Laboratory for brain research. He left academia for the corporate world in 1989, doing brain research for Nicolet Biomedical and later moving to the NeuroCare Division of VIASYS Healthcare, where he was chief technology officer and VP of engineering and new technology. Most recently, he was part of a startup company called Cyberkinetics, where he was vice president of research and development. He got his teaching certificate in 2006, and previously taught in Madison and Middleton. In New Glarus, he heads up the math and computer science department.

Capital Times: Describe the work you did before you became a teacher.

Jon Joseph: I spent a lot of time b

Somewhat related, from a financial and curricular perspective: The Khan Academy.

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April 13, 2011

Enthusiasm for science fairs has dimmed in Wisconsin

Joe Carey:

Gary Stresman stands on a chair in the cafeteria in Nicolet High School addressing a bustling crowd of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Though it's rather early on a Saturday morning and they are in a school, the students are excited.

 They are at a science fair.

It's going to be a great day, Stresman tells them. They should be proud of the work they put into their projects and be ready to have some fun, he says.

 "Because science is cool, right?" he asks.

 "Right!" they answer him.

That enthusiasm for science fairs - once a staple of school life - doesn't burn as brightly throughout Wisconsin.

In recent years, Wisconsin's statewide science fair, which takes the winners from the eight regional fairs around the state, has drawn about 75 high school students. Milwaukee is down to one districtwide science fair for MPS, after the Milwaukee Regional Science and Engineering Fair folded in 2009.

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April 12, 2011

Reinventing the Way We Teach Engineers

Joseph Rosenbloom:

Richard Miller has had one of the toughest jobs in higher education. The Olin Foundation tapped him a dozen years ago to create an engineering college on a hilltop in the Boston suburb of Needham. When Miller started, there were no buildings, no faculty, no curriculum, no students.

The foundation's mandate: design a boldly original model for a 21st century school whose graduates would be not just accomplished engineers but world-beater entrepreneurs and leaders.

Now the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering has a wind-swept cluster of six earth-toned buildings, 347 brainy students who pay a maximum of $38,000 tuition, an untenured faculty totaling 25 men and 13 women and a curriculum oriented toward what Miller calls "design based" learning. Miller, who has a Ph.D. in applied mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, has honed his leadership skills as Olin's chief creator and builder. The following is an edited version of an interview with Miller conducted by Inc. contributor Joseph Rosenbloom.

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April 5, 2011

Requiring Algebra II in high school gains momentum nationwide

Peter Whoriskey, via a Mike Allen email

With its intricate mysteries of quadratics, logarithms and imaginary numbers, Algebra II often provokes a lament from high-schoolers.

What exactly does this have to do with real life?

The answer: maybe more than anyone could have guessed.

Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.

In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.

The effort has been led by Achieve, a group organized by governors and business leaders and funded by corporations and their foundations, to improve the skills of the workforce. Although U.S. economic strength has been attributed in part to high levels of education, the workforce is lagging in the percentage of younger workers with college degrees, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Sample questions are available here.

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March 28, 2011

Appeals court sides with Seattle schools over math text choice

Katherine Long:

The Washington State Court of Appeals has reversed an earlier decision in King County Superior Court that found Seattle's choice of a new high-school math series was arbitrary and capricious.

The appellate court found no basis for the Superior Court's conclusion in February 2010 that the Seattle School board "was willful and unreasoning in coming to its decision" when it chose the Discovering Math series of textbooks for algebra and geometry in high school math.

The school district has been using the series since the start of the 2009 school year.

Some parents have criticized the Discovering Math series, saying it is inferior to other series and that its emphasis on verbal descriptions makes it difficult for some students to understand, especially those for whom English is a second language.

Much more on the Seattle Discovery Math lawsuit, here.

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March 13, 2011

Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education


Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script -- give students video lectures to watch at home, and do "homework" in the classroom with the teacher available to help.
Khan discusses moving away from the "one size fits all" approach to education. However, he does advocate "peer to peer tutoring".......

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March 9, 2011

Math Night a chance for kids, parents to learn, have fun

Pamela Cotant:

The teacher-run Math Night at Madison's Olson Elementary was a chance for parents and children to play math games together, but there's more to the event.

"The real reason behind it is to have families and kids think a little differently about math," said Dawn Weigel Stiegert, instructional resource teacher at Olson.

At the recent second annual event, the activities focused on geometry, measurement and math facts/number work. Each area had games designed for different grade levels and chosen by the teachers to fit with math standards for the various grades. The games allow parents, who learned math differently when they were in school, to see the expectations at the different grade levels and how their children are learning math, Weigel Stiegert said.

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March 5, 2011

The Way You Learned Math Is So Old School


Your fifth-grader asks you for help with the day's math homework. The assignment: Create a "stem-and-leaf" plot of the birthdays of each student in the class and use it to determine if one month has more birthdays than the rest, and if so, which month? Do you:

a) Stare blankly

b) Google "stem-and-leaf plot"

c) Say, "Why do you need to know that?"

d) Shrug and say, "I must have been sick the day they taught that in math class."

If you're a parent of a certain age, your kids' homework can be confounding. Blame it on changes in the way children are taught math nowadays -- which can make you feel like you're not very good with numbers.

Well, our math guy, Keith Devlin, is very good at math, and he tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon that there's a reason elementary schools are teaching arithmetic in a new way.

"That's largely to reflect the different needs of society," he says. "No one ever in their real life anymore needs to -- and in most cases never does -- do the calculations themselves."

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March 1, 2011

Is America's best high school soft on math?

Jay Matthews:

By all accounts, he is one of the best math teachers in the country. The Mathematics Association of America has given him two national awards. He was appointed by the Bush administration to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. For 25 years he has prepared middle-schoolers for the tough admissions standards at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the most selective high school in America.

Yet this year, when Vern Williams looked at the Jefferson application, he felt not the usual urge to get his kids in, but a dull depression. On the first page of Jefferson's letter to teachers writing recommendations, in boldface type, was the school board's new focus: It wanted to prepare "future leaders in mathematics, science, and technology to address future complex societal and ethical issues." It sought diversity, "broadly defined to include a wide variety of factors, such as race, ethnicity, gender, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), geography, poverty, prior school and cultural experiences, and other unique skills and experiences." The same language was on the last page of the application.

"This is just one example of why I have lost all faith in the TJ admissions process," Williams said. "In fact, I'm pretty embarrassed that the process seems no more effective than flipping coins."

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February 28, 2011

Washington should stick to proven state math standards

Clifford Mass:

IF our state Legislature takes no action this session, Washington state will drop its new, improved math standards for an untested experiment: Common Core "national" standards that have never been used in the classroom and for which assessments have yet to be developed.

And there is a high price tag for such a switch, an expense our state can ill afford. Surprisingly, one of the most profound changes in U.S. education in decades has been virtually uncovered by the national media.

Until two years ago, our state had some of the worst math standards in the country, rated "F" by the Fordham Foundation, and lacking many of the essentials found in standards used by the highest-performing nations. That all changed in 2008, when under the impetus of the state Legislature, a new set of standards, based on world-class math requirements, was adopted.

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February 27, 2011

For the Love of Math!


You've heard this a million (10 to the power of 6) times, but it is frightening. In the 2009 (41 X 49) Program for International Student Assessment US 15-year-olds ranked 25th (4! + 1) among 34 (square root of 1156) countries in math falling behind Canada, New Zealand, Finland, and Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

To counter this sad trend, stop by The Math Salon at Mosaic Coffeehouse on February 28th from 4-6 PM:

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February 26, 2011

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 ( 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.

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February 6, 2011

It May Be a Sputnik Moment, but Science Fairs Are Lagging

Amy Harmon:

Rarely have school science fairs, a source of pride and panic for generations of American students, achieved such prominence on the national stage. President Obama held one at the White House last fall. And last week he said that America should celebrate its science fair winners like Sunday's Super Bowl champions, or risk losing the nation's competitive edge.

Yet as science fair season kicks into high gear, participation among high school students appears to be declining. And many science teachers say the problem is not a lack of celebration, but the Obama administration's own education policy, which holds schools accountable for math and reading scores at the expense of the kind of creative, independent exploration that science fair projects require.

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February 2, 2011

The Thomas Beale Cipher: A Modern Take on an Old Mystery

Jane Doh:

It's the stuff of legends: A group of men comea across what would be today worth $65 million in gold and silver while on expedition in early-19th-century New Mexico territory. Then, they transport said treasure thousands of miles and bury it in Virginia. One of them, named Thomas Jefferson Beale, leaves three ciphertexts, simply strings of comma-separated numbers, with an innkeeper in Virginia, who forgets about it for more than 20 years.

One day, the innkeeper, realizing that Beale isn't coming back, opens the box and tries to solve the riddle. Frustrated, he then tells the story and passes along the texts to a friend, J.B. Ward, who cracks one of the three ciphertexts, but not the one that actually gives the precise location of the treasure. More than a hundred years go by, and no one can solve the remaining two ciphers, not even with the benefit of modern computers, and the treasure, if it exists, may still be out there, waiting in the mountains of Virginia.

Picking up on this unsolved mystery, modern storyteller Andrew S. Allen created a short film The Thomas Beale Cipher, a refreshingly modern take on this century-old mystery. In Allen's story, Professor White, a cryptographer who has recently run into some poor luck, has figured out a way to solve the Beale ciphers. But this knowledge is dangerous, and federal agents are hunting him down.

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January 29, 2011

Building Sage (Open Source Math) on Amazon EC2

A quarter or two ago my son Andy took a rather unique course at the University of Washington. In his Math 480b: Programming for the Working Mathematician course, Andy learned about a number of important topics including the Unix command line, Python programming (including classes, exceptions and decorators). In the second half of the quarter they learned about the Sage open source math system.

The course ended by teaching the students how to make a genuine contribution to Sage. They were asked to find an open bug, figure out how to fix it, fix it, and to create and submit a patch. In essence, they learned a very practical skill that is taught all too rarely in school -- how to be a contributor to an open source project. This is pretty significant. Despite the presence of the word "open", I have come to learn that many people don't understand the actual workings of the process. Walking the students through it, and having them make an actual contribution, will ensure that they leave school with this knowledge under their belt. With any luck it will be easier for them to find jobs and they'll be more useful and more productive once they start.

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January 26, 2011

The Educationist View of Math Education

Barry Garelick:

In Jay Greene's recent blog post, "The Dead End of Scientific Progressivism," he points out that Vicki Phillips, head of education at the Gates Foundation misread her Foundation's own report. Jay's point was that Vicki continued to see what she and others wanted to see: "'Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests.' Science had produced its answer -- teachers should stop teaching to the test, stop drill and kill, and stop test prep (which the Gates officials and reporters used as interchangeable terms)."

I was intrigued by the education establishment's long-held view as Jay paraphrased it. This view has become one of the "enduring truths" of education and I have heard it expressed in the various classes I have been taking in education school the last few years. (I plan to teach high school math when I retire later this year). In terms of math education, ed school professors distinguish between "exercises" and "problems". "Exercises" are what students do when applying algorithms or routines they know and can apply even to word problems. Problem solving, which is preferred, occurs when students are not able to apply a mechanical, memorized response, but rather have to apply prior knowledge to solve a non-routine problem. Moreover, we future teachers are told that students' difficulty in solving problems in new contexts is evidence that the use of "mere exercises" or "procedures" is ineffective and they are overused in classrooms. One teacher summed up this philosophy with the following questions: "What happens when students are placed in a totally unfamiliar situation that requires a more complex solution? Do they know how to generate a procedure? How do we teach students to apply mathematical thinking in creative ways to solve complex, novel problems? What happens when we get off the 'script'?"

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January 5, 2011

The AI Revolution Is On

Stephen Levy: warehouses are a bit of a jumble. Boxes of pacifiers sit above crates of onesies, which rest next to cartons of baby food. In a seeming abdication of logic, similar items are placed across the room from one another. A person trying to figure out how the products were shelved could well conclude that no form of intelligence--except maybe a random number generator--had a hand in determining what went where.

But the warehouses aren't meant to be understood by humans; they were built for bots. Every day, hundreds of robots course nimbly through the aisles, instantly identifying items and delivering them to flesh-and-blood packers on the periphery. Instead of organizing the warehouse as a human might--by placing like products next to one another, for's robots stick the items in various aisles throughout the facility. Then, to fill an order, the first available robot simply finds the closest requested item. The storeroom is an ever-shifting mass that adjusts to constantly changing data, like the size and popularity of merchandise, the geography of the warehouse, and the location of each robot. Set up by Kiva Systems, which has outfitted similar facilities for Gap, Staples, and Office Depot, the system can deliver items to packers at the rate of one every six seconds.

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December 24, 2010

Montgomery schools' decision to slow pace of math courses divides parents

Michael Birnbaum

One recent night, Mackenzie Stassel was cramming for a quiz in her advanced math course in Montgomery County. Her review of the complicated topics followed hours of other homework. Eventually she started to nod off at the table.

It was 11:15 p.m. Mackenzie is a sixth-grader.

There will be fewer such nights in the future for many Montgomery students.

Last month, Maryland's largest school system announced that it would significantly curtail its practice of pushing large numbers of elementary and middle school students to skip grade levels in math. Parents had questioned the payoff of acceleration; teachers had said students in even the most advanced classes were missing some basics.

Related: Math Forum and Madison's Math Task Force.

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December 18, 2010

8th Grade 1895 Test from Salina, Kansas

The Salina Journal:

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per m?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per are, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

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December 17, 2010

It Isn't the Culture, Stupid

Barry Garelick, via email:

The news last week that Shanghai students achieved the top scores in math on the international PISA exam was for some of us not exactly a wake-up call (as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan characterized it) or a Sputnik moment (as President Obama called it).

We've seen this result before. We've seen the reactions and the theories and the excuses that purport to explain why the US does so poorly in math. In fact, there are three main variations used to explain why Chinese/Asian students do so well in international exams:

  • Version 1: They are taught using rote learning and then regurgitate the results on exams that test how well they memorize the procedures of how to solve specific problems.
  • Version 2: They are taught using the reform methods of a "problem based approach" that doesn't rely on drills, and instills critical thinking and higher order thinking skills
  • Version 3: The teacher or the culture produces the proper conditions for learning.

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December 15, 2010

Shanghai PISA scores

Steve Hsu:

The Shanghai math (+1 SD) and science (+.75 SD) scores are almost a full SD above the OECD average of 500 (SD = 100). The top 10 percent of Shanghai math students are all above the 99th percentile for the US. See earlier post for links to Rindermann's work relating school achievement tests like TIMSS and PISA to national IQ estimates, and see here for earlier SD estimates using 2006 PISA data. (Finland has an anomalously low SD in the earlier data. A quick look at the 2009 data shows the following math SDs: Finland 82, USA 91, Korea 89, Japan 94, Germany 98, Shanghai 103, Singapore 104.)

Although Shanghai and Beijing are the richest cities in China, incomes are still quite low compared to the US. Average income in Shanghai is about $10k USD per annum, even PPP adjusted this is about $20k. People live very modestly by the standards of developed countries.

As noted in the comments, there are other places in China that score *higher* than Shanghai on college entrance exams or in math and science competitions. So while Shanghai is probably above the average in China, it isn't as exceptional as is perhaps implied in the Times article.

Taiwan has been moving to an American-style, less test-centric, educational system in the last decade. Educators and government officials (according to local media reports in the last 12 hours) are very concerned about the "low scores" achieved in the most recent PISA :-)

To see how individual states or ethnicities in the US score on PISA, see here and here.

NYTimes: ... PISA scores are on a scale, with 500 as the average. Two-thirds of students in participating countries score between 400 and 600. On the math test last year, students in Shanghai scored 600, in Singapore 562, in Germany 513, and in the United States 487.

In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of second-place Korea with 539. The United States scored 500 and came in 17th, putting it on par with students in the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and several other countries.

In science, Shanghai students scored 575. In second place was Finland, where the average score was 554. The United States scored 502 — in 23rd place — with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.

The testing in Shanghai was carried out by an international contractor, working with Chinese authorities, and overseen by the Australian Council for Educational Research, a nonprofit testing group, said Andreas Schleicher, who directs the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international educational testing program.

Mark Schneider, a commissioner of the Department of Education’s research arm in the George W. Bush administration, who returned from an educational research visit to China on Friday, said he had been skeptical about some PISA results in the past. But Mr. Schneider said he considered the accuracy of these results to be unassailable.

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December 14, 2010

Private school finds answers in Singapore method

Jason Wermers:

Educators at a small private Christian school in Olde Town Augusta are seeing results with a math curriculum imported from halfway around the world.

For the past three years, Heritage Academy has used Singapore Math as its basal math curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade.

In the first year the school adopted Singapore Math, all of its kindergarten and first-grade pupils met or exceeded proficiency standards on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, as did 80 percent of second-graders.

Why use math from Singapore?

Related: Math Forum Audio/Video.

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December 10, 2010

Next generation workforce: Outperformed in math and science

Scott Olster

f you want to get a sense of what's in store for the American workforce, just take a look at how our students match up against the rest of the world in math and science. After all, most of the professions within the U.S. economy that are growing -- healthcare, information technology, and biomedicine -- require extensive training in both subjects.

So how are we doing? Not well, at all.

American 15-year old students scored below average in math and were outperformed by 23 other countries and education systems, according to test results released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment.

And they didn't do much better in science, ranking 19 among the lot of 65 participating countries and education systems (N.B. "educational systems" are individual cities within a country, like Shanghai).

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December 8, 2010

Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators

Sam Dillon

With China's debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam.

American officials and Europeans involved in administering the test in about 65 countries acknowledged that the scores from Shanghai -- an industrial powerhouse with some 20 million residents and scores of modern universities that is a magnet for the best students in the country -- are by no means representative of all of China.

About 5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai were chosen as a representative cross-section of students in that city. In the United States, a similar number of students from across the country were selected as a representative sample for the test.

Experts noted the obvious difficulty of using a standardized test to compare countries and cities of vastly different sizes. Even so, they said the stellar academic performance of students in Shanghai was noteworthy, and another sign of China's rapid modernization.

The results also appeared to reflect the culture of education there, including greater emphasis on teacher training and more time spent on studying rather than extracurricular activities like sports.

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December 7, 2010

American Teens Trail Global Peers in Math Scores; But U.S. Students Show Progress in Science


American teenagers made modest progress on an international exam, but still performed below average in mathematics compared with their peers in other industrialized countries, according to results released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The test, called the Program for International Student Assessment, has been given every three years since 2000 to 15-year-old students. Last year, when the test was administered, 60 countries participated. It's coordinated worldwide by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

The results for American students drew a lukewarm response from U.S. education officials as they seek to boost test scores among high-school and college students. "We're in the middle of the pack; that's not where we want to be," said Stuart Kerachsky, deputy commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the Department of Education that administers the PISA test in the U.S.

Korea and Finland top OECD's latest PISA survey of education performance:
Korea and Finland top the OECD's latest PISA survey of reading literacy among 15-year olds, which for the first time tested students' ability to manage digital information.

The survey, based on two-hour tests of a half million students in more than 70 economies, also tested mathematics and science. The results for 65 economies are being released today.

The next strongest performances were from Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Full results here.

The province of Shanghai, China, took part for the first time and scored higher in reading than any country. It also topped the table in maths and science. More than one-quarter of Shanghai's 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%.

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December 5, 2010

Perfect SAT Math Scores: Male-Female Ratio of 2:1

In September I had a post about the 2010 Math SAT test results, and reported on the gender differences in favor of males, who scored 34 points higher on average this year than their female counterparts. This follows a persistent 30+ point differential in favor of male high school students that goes back to at least the early 1970s.

This is a follow-up to that post, and the chart above (click to enlarge) displays the results of the 2010 Math SAT test by gender for all scores between 580 and 800 by 10-point intervals. Notice that:

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December 2, 2010

Classroom Collaboration Supports Mathematical Generalizations

Amy Ellis

In mathematics classrooms, generalization is an important part of the curriculum.

When students know how to generalize they can identify commonality across cases, extend their reasoning beyond the range in which it originated, and derive broader results from particular cases. But generalization remains difficult for students to do, and for teachers to support.

UW-Madison education professor Amy Ellis studies the processes that support students' productive generalizing in their math classrooms. She considers generalization a dynamic social process as well as an individual cognitive activity.

In a recent study she studied an 8th-grade math class during a 3-week unit on quadratic growth. The class sessions focused on relationships between the height and area of growing rectangles (see illustration). As they grew, the rectangles retained the same height-to-length ratio.

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November 29, 2010

Emanuel Vows Fix For Chicago Math and English

Dan Mihalopoulos

Rahm Emanuel made a campaign promise last week that if elected mayor, he would install a new math and English language curriculum in Chicago's public schools by the end of his first term.

Mr. Emanuel said the new curriculum would be geared toward equipping students with the skills to meet the "common core standards" that education officials in Illinois and more than 40 other states have adopted. In imposing the new standards, the state has left up to the districts the question of how to try to meet those standards.

"I want us, the city of Chicago, to be the first city to adopt the curriculum that teaches toward the common standards," he said in an interview with the Chicago News Cooperative. "Nobody has taken on the initiative."

The effort would better prepare high school graduates for college or the workplace, he said.

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November 20, 2010

Bay State 12th-graders top nation in NAEP test results

Stewart Bishop

High school seniors in Massachusetts are ranked highest in the nation in reading and math ability, according to new test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The first state-specific results for Grade 12 in 2009 showed that Massachusetts students had the highest scaled score in both the reading and math exams. The Bay State was one of 11 states to participate in the pilot program for states to receive state-specific Grade 12 results.

In a ceremony at Medford High School, Governor Deval Patrick, surrounded by state education officials and hundreds of students, heralded the results as proof of the state's position as a leader in public education.

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November 15, 2010

Talking Numbers Counts For Kids' Math Skills


In almost every home and pre-school in America, young children are being taught how to recite the alphabet and how to say their numbers.

A new study by University of Chicago psychology professor Susan Levine finds that simply repeating the numbers isn't as good as helping kids understand what they mean.

According to her study, for children to develop the math skills they'll need later on in school, it is essential that parents spend time teaching their children the value of numbers by using concrete examples -- instead of just repeating them out loud.

"Just about all 2-year-olds can rattle off the sequence from one to 10," Levine tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "But then, if you ask them to give you three objects ... they'll just grab a handful."

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November 14, 2010

One-time funds to train 153 Oshkosh teachers to help students with math

Adam Rodewald

New spending approved by the Oshkosh school board would cover a gap in math tutoring services that has left four schools with inadequate help for struggling students since last year.

About 13 percent of Oshkosh elementary school students perform below grade level in math, said Director of Curriculum Shelly Muza.

That's better than the average Wisconsin district, which has about 25 percent of elementary students performing below grade level. But budget cuts in the 2009-10 academic year stripped Oakwood, Carl Traeger, Lakeside and Green Meadow schools of math support services after the board decided to fund the $295,000 program with federal Title I dollars - money given only to schools with higher rates of poverty - instead of general fund dollars.

The remaining math intervention teachers who work one-on-one with struggling students can barely keep up. The equivalent of 4.25 full-time teachers are split between about 570 students in 12 elementary schools, said Muza.

Two relate links: Math Forum Audio, Video & Links; Math Task Force.

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November 11, 2010

Teaching Math to the Talented

Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann

In Vancouver last winter, the United States proved its competitive spirit by winning more medals--gold, silver, and bronze--at the Winter Olympic Games than any other country, although the German member of our research team insists on pointing out that Canada and Germany both won more gold medals than the United States. But if there is some dispute about which Olympic medals to count, there is no question about American math performance: the United States does not deserve even a paper medal.

Maintaining our productivity as a nation depends importantly on developing a highly qualified cadre of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and other professionals. To realize that objective requires a system of schooling that produces students with advanced math and science skills. To see how well schools in the United States do at producing high-achieving math students, we compared the percentage of U.S. students in the high-school graduating Class of 2009 with advanced skills in mathematics to percentages of similarly high achievers in other countries.

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November 8, 2010

International Benchmarking: State Education Performance Standards

Gary W. Phillips, Ph.D., via a Richard Askey email

It is worth looking at the data to see how Wisconsin compares with some other states. Here is the mathematics comparison with Minnesota.

The "state" results are the percent of students ranked as proficient on the state test with the current cut scores being used. The international percent was obtained by using the state results on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and this was mapped by comparing levels of problems to the level on TIMSS, (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study).

Grade 4 Mathematics Percent proficient
State International
Wisconsin 74 45
Minnesota 68 55
Massachusetts 49 63

Grade 8 Mathematics

Wisconsin 73 33
Minnesota 56 41
Massachusetts 46 52

No, the Massachusetts scores were not reversed here. Their cut score levels are set higher than the TIMSS levels.

It is time for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to redo the cut score levels to make them realistic. Parents in Wisconsin are mature enough to be told the truth about how well their children are doing.

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November 4, 2010

British Kids Log On and Learn Math -- in Punjab

Julia Wedigier

Once a week, year six pupils at Ashmount Primary School in North London settle in front of their computers, put on their headsets and get ready for their math class. A few minutes later, their teachers come online thousands of kilometers away in the Indian state of Punjab.

Ashmount is one of three state schools in Britain that decided to outsource part of their teaching to India via the Internet. The service -- the first of its kind in Europe -- is offered by BrightSpark Education, a London-based company set up last year. BrightSpark employs and trains 100 teachers in India and puts them in touch with pupils in Britain through an interactive online tutoring program.

The feedback from pupils, the schools and parents is good so far, and BrightSpark said a dozen more schools, a charity and many more parents were interested in signing up for the lessons. The one-on-one sessions not only cost about half of what personal tutors in Britain charge but are also popular with pupils, who enjoy solving equations online, said Rebecca Stacey, an assistant head teacher at Ashmount.

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November 3, 2010

Push for math, science education stumbles amid beleaguered Kansas City districts' pressures

Joe Robertson

Five years ago, alarms sounded over America's rapidly falling stature in STEM education.

That's science, technology, engineering and math -- the keys to our nation's prosperity. But U.S. schools weren't keeping up in the fast-changing fields.

Governors dispatched task forces. New programs were launched. Foundations poured in funding. And schools started to make gains.

Now, however, signs are emerging that the momentum of the mid-2000s is slipping away, even as students' needs continue to grow.

An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria by Janet Mertz.

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October 22, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Rosemarie Emanuele

tatistical measures such as "mean", "median" and "mode" are measures that give us a sense of where data are located on a number line. They are therefore, sometimes, called "measures of location". I had to think of them this past week as Ursuline College prepares to host the meeting of the Ohio Division of the Mathematical Association of America, which, for the first time in its history, will be located at our small college campus. A group of math professors from throughout Ohio will be descending on our campus this weekend, and my colleague in the math department is responsible for not only arranging to have the conference come to our campus, but also is responsible for taking care of many of the details that go with planning a conference. Always more of a "big picture" person than one who can deal with minutia, I am in awe of the job she is doing. Her involvement ranges from finding work study students to handle registration to arranging to make coffee and hot chocolate herself rather than pay a high price to have it made for the conference. I certainly could never have done such a good job, and I look forward to watching the conference unfold on our campus that is temporarily missing students, who are on a "fall break."

When my colleague joined us at Ursuline almost ten years ago, she immediately signed up to have her membership in the Mathematical Association of America transferred to her new Ursuline College address. However, when she filled out the form to do so, she was unable to find Ursulline College on the list of Ohio campuses from which to choose. She found herself checking "other", and then writing in the name of "Ursuline College." That would have to change, she recalls thinking!

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October 10, 2010

Singapore Math Is "Our Dirty Little Secret"

Barry Garelick, via email:

The New York Times ran a story on September 30 about Singapore Math being used in some schools in the New York City area. Like many newspaper stories about Singapore Math, this one was no different. It described a program that strangely sounded like the math programs being promoted by reformers of math education, relying on the cherished staples of reform: manipulatives, open-ended problems, and classroom discussion of problems. The only thing the article didn't mention was that the students worked in small groups.

Those of us familiar with Singapore Math from having used it with our children are wondering just what program the article was describing. Spending a week on the numbers 1 and 2 in Kindergarten? Spending an entire 4th grade classroom period discussing the place value ramifications of the number 82,566? Well, maybe that did happen, but not because the Singapore Math books are structured that way. In fact, the books are noticeably short on explicit narrative instruction. The books provide pictures and worked out examples and excellent problems; the topics are ordered in a logical sequence so that material mastered in the various lessons builds upon itself and is used to advance to more complex applications. But what is assumed in Singapore is that teachers know how to teach the material--the teacher's manuals contain very little guidance. Thus, the decision to spend a week on the numbers 1 and 2 in kindergarten, or a whole class period discussing a single number is coming from the teachers, not the books.

The mistaken idea that gets repeated in many such articles is that Singapore Math differs from other programs by requiring or imparting a "deep understanding" and that such understanding comes about through a) manipulatives, b) pictures, and c) open-ended discussions. In fact, what the articles represent is what the schools are telling the reporters. What newspapers frequently do not realize when reporting on Singapore Math, is that when a school takes on such a program, it means going against what many teachers believe math education to be about; it is definitely not how they are trained in ed schools. The success of Singapore's programs relies in many ways on more traditional approaches to math education, such as explicit instruction and giving students many problems to solve, in some ways its very success represented a slap in the face to American math reformers, many of whom have worked hard to eliminate such techniques being used.

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September 13, 2010

Hong Kong pupils shine in top Asian maths contest

Lana Lam

Two primary school pupils from Hong Kong won the top awards in one of Asia's most prestigious maths competitions.

It's the first time that any Hong Kong pupil has won a grand champion award at the International Mathematics Contest which was held in Singapore last month. About 1,000 pupils competed in the event which sees teams from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand battling it out in algebra, geometry, statistics and measurements.

Nine-year-old boy Li Ka-wing scored the highest marks in the Primary Three category and 11-year-old girl Lam Ho-yan was the best pupil for the Primary Five exams.

They both train at the Hong Kong Mathematical Olympiad School in Kowloon which offers intensive maths coaching.

"Each year, there are good results. However this year, it was very special," the school's principal, Pinky Lam Sui-ping, said. Every year, thousands of Hong Kong pupils applied to compete in the event by sitting online tests, she said.

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August 31, 2010

Bill Gates Enrolls His Child in Khan Academy


"At some schools, a teaching load of five courses every academic year is considered excessive. But Sal Khan, as an earlier Slashdot post noted, manages to deliver his mini-lectures an average of 70,000 times a day. BusinessWeek reports that Khan Academy has a new fan in Bill Gates, who's been singing and tweeting the praises of the free-as-in-beer website. 'This guy is amazing,' Gates wrote. 'It is awesome how much he has done with very little in the way of resources.' Gates and his 11-year-old son have been soaking up videos, from algebra to biology. And at the Aspen Ideas Festival in front of 2,000 people, Gates gave Khan a shout-out, touting the 'unbelievable' Khan Academy tutorials that 'I've been using with my kids.'"

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August 20, 2010

Math, science teachers get paid less, report says

Donna Gordon Blankinship

UW researchers have found that despite the spoken commitment of state officials and lawmakers, teachers in math and science earn less than other high-school instructors.

Researchers at the University of Washington have found that despite the spoken commitment of state officials and lawmakers, math and science teachers earn less than other high-school instructors.

In a report released Wednesday, the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that 19 of the state's 30 largest school districts pay math or science teachers less than they spend on teachers in other subjects.

The way Washington and many other states pay teachers -- with more money going to those with more years of experience and graduate degrees -- has led to the uneven salaries.

Jobs that pay better at nearby high-tech companies may also be a contributing factor, because math and science teachers may be recruited away before they have a chance to reach the higher rungs on the pay ladder, said Jim Simpkins, a researcher on the report, with Marguerite Roza and Cristina Sepe.

Jim Simpkins, Marguerite Roza, Cristina Sepe
Washington State recently passed a law (House Bill 2621) intending to accelerate the teaching and learning of math and science. However, in the two subject areas the state seeks to prioritize, this analysis finds that nineteen of the thirty largest districts in the state spend less per math or science teacher than for teachers in other subjects.

Existing salary schedules are part of the problem. By not allowing any differential compensation for math and science teachers, and instead basing compensation only on longevity and graduate credits, the wage system works to create the uneven salaries.

The analysis finds that in twenty-five of the thirty largest districts, math and science teachers had fewer years of teaching experience due to higher turnover--an indication that labor market forces do indeed vary with subject matter expertise. The subject-neutral salary schedule works to ignore these differences.

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August 13, 2010

Education Reform and Civil Rights

New Jersey Left Behind:

Here's Sandra Alberti, Director of Math and Science Education at the NJ DOE. in NJ Spotlight:
We have this thing called Algebra I that exists in very different forms, even within the same school.
That's her admirably candid response to the results of pilot tests of Algebra I and Biology, which demonstrates the gap in proficiency between poor and wealthy students. "On the biology test, just a quarter of the students in the poorest districts were proficient, compared with more than 80 percent in the wealthiest." For Algebra I, "75 percent of students in the poorest districts were deemed "below basic," while that number was 11 percent in the richest districts."

In other words, 75% of NJ's poor students failed both the biology test and the algebra test while only 20% of NJ's wealthy students failed biology and 11% failed algebra. Odds are high, based on Alberti's comment, that the vast majority of the poor students passed their coursework in spite of lack of proficiency.

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August 12, 2010

The Missing Mandate: Financial Literacy

Brooke Stephens

As legislators and lobbyists congratulate themselves on the 2300 pages of legalese drafted to reform Wall Street banks and the financial services industry, not one paragraph addresses a major reason why the meltdown occurred: how American consumers learn to manage money. According to several mortgage banking studies, nearly 70 percent of the victims of foreclosure admit they did not understand the terms of the deal they signed or the long-term impact on their lives.

Congress had plenty of chances to address this problem. More than 30 bills focused on financial literacy have been introduced since 2006. All of them died in Senate or House committees. None were included in this recent reform bill.

Money, like sex, is supposed to be taught at home but in a 2008 Charles Schwab study, 69% of parents interviewed reported they were more prepared to discuss sex than money with their children.

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August 10, 2010

Houston's New Math Tutoring Program: Seeking Math Fellows

Houston School District:

The Apollo 20 Math Fellows Program is a one-year Urban Education Fellowship Program located in Houston, Texas.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) is looking for dynamic college graduates to commit one year to improving the academic achievement of inner-city students. You will tutor five pairs of middle- or high-school students in math, every day, for the whole school year. You will have the opportunity to build close relationships with each of your students, and the chance to make a significant impact on their lives. This program is unique in that it is the first large-scale tutoring program integrated into the students' school day that has ever been launched in an urban public school district. With your help, Houston can become a leading innovator in the urban education field.

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August 6, 2010

Serious Math

Katy Murphy:

Over the years, I feel like I've come to know you -- your political leanings and life experiences, your writing style, sense of humor and average snark level. But what about your math skills?

For example: Can you (or any high school student you know) do this?

Show that there are only finitely many triples (x, y, z) of positive integers satisfying the equation abc = 2009(a + b + c).
Or this?

Let n be an integer greater than 3. Points V1, V2, ..., Vn, with no three collinear, lie on a plane. Some of the segments ViVj , with 1 *< i < j < n, are constructed. Points Vi and Vj are neighbors if ViVj is constructed. Initially, chess pieces C1,C2, ...,Cn are placed at points V1, V2, ..., Vn (not necessarily in that order) with exactly one piece at each point. In a move, one can choose some of the n chess pieces, and simultaneously relocate each of the chosen piece from its current position to one of its neighboring positions such that after the move, exactly one chess piece is at each point and no two chess pieces have exchanged their positions. A set of constructed segments is called harmonic if for any initial positions of the chess pieces, each chess piece Ci(1< i < n) is at the point Vi after a finite number of moves. Determine the minimum number of segments in a harmonic set.

(*Note: This sign (<) should read "less than or equal to," but I have some keyboard limitations.)

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August 1, 2010

National standards would harm math curriculum

Ze'ev Wurman & Bill Evers:

The State Board of Education is voting Monday on adopting national K-12 curriculum standards in a package that includes an obese, unteachable eighth-grade math course.

Back in May 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell pledged to adopt the then-not-yet-created national curriculum standards only if they "meet or exceed our own."

The pledge these public officials took was wise and honorable. California has K-12 academic-content standards that are widely praised as the best in the nation. For example, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found on July 21 that California's standards in both English and mathematics are the absolute best in the nation and better than the national standards. Clearly, Fordham's expert reviewers did not agree with the calls we sometimes hear that we must ditch our standards because they are inadequate.

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Getting Into Med School Without Hard Sciences

Anemona Hartocollis:

For generations of pre-med students, three things have been as certain as death and taxes: organic chemistry, physics and the Medical College Admission Test, known by its dread-inducing acronym, the MCAT.

So it came as a total shock to Elizabeth Adler when she discovered, through a singer in her favorite a cappella group at Brown University, that one of the nation's top medical schools admits a small number of students every year who have skipped all three requirements.

Until then, despite being the daughter of a physician, she said, "I was kind of thinking medical school was not the right track for me."

Ms. Adler became one of the lucky few in one of the best kept secrets in the cutthroat world of medical school admissions, the Humanities and Medicine Program at the Mount Sinai medical school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

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July 27, 2010

Seattle Public Schools Administration Response to the Discovery Math Public Lawsuit Loss

602K PDF.

Respondents focus their brief on arguing that no reasonable school board would adopt "inquiry-based" high school mathematics textbooks instead of "direct instruction" textbooks. There are "dueling experts" and other conflicting evidence regarding the best available material for teaching high school math, and the Seattle School Board ("the Board") gave due consideration to both sides of the debate before reaching its quasi legislative decision to adopt the Discovering series and other textbooks on a 4-3 vote.

The trial court erred by substituting its judgment for the Board's in determining how much weight to place on the conflicting evidence. Several of the "facts" alleged in the Brief of Respondents ("BR") are inaccurate, misleading, or lack any citation to the record in violation of RAP l0.3(a)(4). The Court should have an accurate view of the facts in the record to decide the important legal issues in this case. The Board is, therefore, compelled to correct any misimpressions that could arise from an unwary reading of respondents' characterization of the facts.

Much more on the successful citizen lawsuit overturning the Seattle School District's use of Discovery Math, here. Clusty Search: Discovery Math.

Local links: Math Task Force, Math Forum Audio/Video and West High School Math Teachers letter to Isthmus.

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July 22, 2010

The National Standards Delusion

Neal McCluskey:

As Massachusetts nears decision time on adopting national education standards, the Boston Herald takes state leaders to task for their support of the Common Core standards, which some analysts say are inferior to current state standards. But fear not, says Education Secretary Paul Reville. If the national standards are inferior, the Bay State can change them. "We will continue to be in the driver's seat."

If only national standardizers -- many of whom truly want high standards and tough accountability -- would look a little further than the ends of their beaks.

Here's the reality: Massachusetts will not be in the drivers seat in the future. Indeed, states aren't in the driver's seat right now, because it is federal money that is steering the car, and many more DC ducats will likely be connected to national standards when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is eventually reauthorized. And this is hardly new or novel -- the feds have forced "voluntary" compliance with its education dictates for decades by holding taxpayer dollars hostage.

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July 20, 2010

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.

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July 7, 2010

Adult education for the 21st century

Susan Aldridge:

I have had the pleasure of handing diplomas to some unusual people at commencement. Still, it was startling to see the child walk toward me. He was 9. He looked younger.

He wasn't accepting the diploma for himself, of course. It was for his dad, on active duty in Iraq. He'd sent his son, living on a base in Germany, to get it for him.

"Congratulations," I said. He and his dad deserved it.

At University of Maryland University College (UMUC), our graduates are America's adult learners. Almost all work full time. Half are parents. Their diplomas often reflect the work, sacrifice -- and triumph -- of an entire family.

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July 6, 2010

How they teach math in MMSD middle school

via a kind reader. Related: Connected Math, Math Forum audio/video, the successful Seattle Discovery Math lawsuit and the Madison School District Math Task Force (SIS links).

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July 1, 2010

Seattle Discovery Math Lawsuit Update

Martha McLaren:

On Monday, June 21st, we filed our "Brief of Respondent" in the School District appeal of Judge Spector's decision. (Sorry to be late in posting it to this blog; our attorney left town after sending me hard copy, but neglected to email an electronic version of the document we filed.) A link to the brief can be found in the left-hand column, below, under "Legal Documents in Textbook Appeal."

There's no new information, either in the District's brief or our response. You might notice that, rather than acknowledge the catalog of unrelated miscellany in the Seattle Public School District's brief, our attorney, Keith Scully, chose to essentially restate our original case, upon which Judge Spector ruled favorably. He did emphasize certain statements which pertained to claims in the District's brief.

I think Keith has, once again, done a masterful job.

5.4MB PDF file.

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June 29, 2010

The Foundations of Computer Science

Al Aho and Jeff Ullman:

This book has been taken out of print by W. H. Freeman. You are welcome to use it if you like. We believed in 1992 it was the way to introduce theory in Computer Science, and we believe that today.

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June 28, 2010

Is New Hampshire's Anti-Tax Stance Hurting Schools? A Quick Look at NAEP Scores Does Not Indicate that Spending is a Problem

Jim Zarroli:

State and local tax burdens vary greatly from state to state. New Hampshire, for instance, has no income or sales tax -- but its neighbor Vermont has both. Fiscal conservatives say New Hampshire's long history of low taxes has forced the state to keep spending in line. But New Hampshire residents say that tradition of fiscal austerity has exacted a price on the state's schools.
NAEP 4th grade average math scale score: New Hampshire: 251; Wisconsin 244; Vermont 248, Massachusetts 252, Minnesota 249, Iowa 243. Low income: New Hampshire: 237; Wisconsin 229; Vermont 235, Massachusetts 237, Minnesota 234, Iowa 232.

NAEP 4th grade average reading scale score (national average is 220): New Hampshire: 229; Wisconsin 220; Vermont 229, Massachusetts 234, Minnesota 223, Iowa 221. Low income (national average is 206): New Hampshire: 213; Wisconsin 202; Vermont 215, Massachusetts 215, Minnesota 203, Iowa 208.

NAEP 8th grade average reading scale score (national average is 262): New Hampshire: 271; Wisconsin 266; Vermont 272, Massachusetts 274, Minnesota 271, Iowa 265. Low income (national average is 249): New Hampshire: 257; Wisconsin 249; Vermont 260, Massachusetts 254, Minnesota 252, Iowa 253.

NAEP 2005 Science Assessment is here

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June 26, 2010

The Common Core Math Standards: When Understanding is Overrated

Barry Garelick, via email:

Earlier this month, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)--a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)--issued the final version of its math standards for K-12.

The draft standards were released in March and CCSSI allowed the public to submit comments on the draft via their website. Over 10,000 comments were received. The U.S. Coalition for World Class Math was one of the commenter's and I had a hand in drafting comments. We were concerned with the draft standards' use of the word "understand" and pointed out that the use of this verb results in an interpretation by different people for different purposes. I am pleased to see that the final version of the standards has greatly reduced the use of the word "understand", but I remain concerned that 1) it still is used for some standards, resulting in the same problems we raised in our comments, and 2) the word "understand" in some instances has been replaced with "explain".

I am not against teaching students the conceptual underpinnings of procedures. I do not believe, however, that it is necessary to require students to then be able to recite the reasons why a particular procedure or algorithm works; i.e., to provide justification. At lower grade levels, some students will understand such explanations, but many will not. And even those who do may have trouble articulating the reasons. The key is whether they understand how such procedure is to be applied, and what the particular procedure represents. For example, does a student know how to figure out how many 2/3 ounce servings of yogurt are in a ¾ ounce container? If the student knows that the solution is to divide ¾ by 2/3, that should provide evidence that the student understands what fractional division means, without having to ask them to explain what the relationship is between multiplication and division and to show why the "invert and multiply" rule works each and every time.

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June 20, 2010

Los Angeles teacher makes algebra cool with a hip-hop beat

Christina Hoag:

The class of eighth graders at a Los Angeles middle school tap their rulers and nod their heads to the rhythm of the rap video projected on a screen. It's not Snoop Dogg or Jay-Z.

It's their math teacher, LaMar Queen, using rhyme to help them memorize seemingly complicated algebra and in the process improve their grades.

"It gets stuck in your head," says Cindy Martinez, a 14-year-old whose math grade went from a C-average to a B.

Queen, 26, is now known at Los Angeles Academy as the rap teacher, but his fame has spread far beyond the 2,200-student school in this gritty neighborhood. He's won a national award and shows teachers and parents how to use rap to reach children.

"Math is a bad word in a lot of households," he says. "But if we put it in a form that kids enjoy, they'll learn."

Queen is doing what many veteran educators have done -- using students' music to connect with them. Where teachers once played the rock n' roll tunes of "Schoolhouse Rocks" to explain everything from government to grammar, they now turn to rap to renew Shakespeare or geometry.

"Rap is what the kids respond to," Queen says. "They don't have a problem memorizing the songs at all."

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June 15, 2010

Women scientists on the debate over women in science

Maggie Koerth-Baker, via a kind reader:

Earlier this week, the New York Times published the first part of a two-part series by John Tierney looking at the current state of women in the sciences--in particular, whether the playing field can ever really be level, or whether innate neural differences mean there will always be more men getting ahead in science and math careers than women.
When Dr. Larry Summers raised the issue to fellow economists and other researchers at a conference in 2005, his hypothesis was caricatured in the press as a revival of the old notion that "girls can't do math." But Dr. Summers said no such thing. He acknowledged that there were many talented female scientists and discussed ways to eliminate the social barriers they faced. Yet even if all these social factors were eliminated, he hypothesized, the science faculty composition at an elite school like Harvard might still be skewed by a biological factor: the greater variability observed among men in intelligence test scores and various traits.

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June 14, 2010

Studying Engineering Before They Can Spell It

Winnie Hu:

In a class full of aspiring engineers, the big bad wolf had to do more than just huff and puff to blow down the three little pigs' house.

To start, he needed to get past a voice-activated security gate, find a hidden door and negotiate a few other traps in a house that a pair of kindergartners here imagined for the pigs -- and then pieced together from index cards, paper cups, wood sticks and pipe cleaners.

"Excellent engineering," their teacher, Mary Morrow, told them one day early this month.

All 300 students at Clara E. Coleman Elementary School are learning the A B C's of engineering this year, even those who cannot yet spell e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-i-n-g. The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.

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June 11, 2010

Seattle Board Work Sessions - Math and Advanced Learning

Charlie Mas:

The Board has two work sessions scheduled for this month.

The first, today, Thursday June 10 from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, will be on Math. No agenda details are available but there is sure to be a powerpoint and it is sure to appear on the District web site soon. I have to believe that the Board is looking for a report on the implementation of the curricular alignment, the implementation of the Theory of Action from the High School textbook adoption, and some update on student academic progress in math.

Next week, on Wednesday, June 16, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm, will be a Board Work Session on Advanced Learning. I honestly cannot imagine what the District staff will have to report

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June 7, 2010

HSBC Chairman Stephen Green calls on schools to teach children about money

Joy Lo Dico:

Mr Green, speaking at the Hay Festival on the Welsh borders on Saturday, said it would be of particular relevance to those who would grow up to become part of the sub-prime market.

"Part of the answer lies in financial literacy education in schools," said Mr Green, promoting his 2009 book Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World.

"I really don't think it's wise in the circumstances of modern life to have people come out of the school system into working life or, sadly, often not working life, without the very basics of financial literacy."

Mr Green, who has been chairman of HSBC since 2005, and is also an ordained priest, was keen to stress that there was a social imperative for banking services to be open to those on lower incomes.

However, he said some forms of lending were unacceptable, citing 110pc mortgages, and said those at the bottom end of the market may not have had proper understanding or access to information when taking out such loans.

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Math, reading standards could become more rigorous in Utah schools

Lisa Schencker:

Math and language arts standards likely will become more rigorous in Utah schools.
As part of a widespread movement toward common academic goals, the Utah Board of Education gave preliminary approval Friday to a new set of language arts and mathematics standards for children in grades K-12, developed for a group of 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. If the plan gains final approval in August, state officials plan to overhaul Utah's language arts and math curricula over the next five years to reflect the new goals, which are more ambitious in some ways than Utah's current ones, said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent.

"They are high standards," said state Superintendent Larry Shumway. "They are high and they are rigorous. I don't have any doubt they will be a step forward for us as a state."

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May 25, 2010

Seattle School District Files Appeal in "Discovery Math" Lawsuit Loss

Martha McLaren:

The District's Appeal Brief is in -- A link to the appeal is shown on the lower left.

The Seattle School District's first brief in its appeal of Judge Spector's decision was filed on Friday. To me, it is not surprising that its arguments are weak. I don't think we could ever have scored this unprecedented victory had our case not been extremely well founded. Nonetheless, one can't predict what the appeals panel will rule.

Basically, the brief restates the district's original contention that, because the specified process was followed, any decision made by the board, (I might add -- regardless of how it flouted overwhelming evidence) must stand. Also, the brief misstates and misinterprets many aspects of our case. One of the most egregious examples is the contention that the court overstepped its authority by making a decision on curriculum. Not so - the court simply remanded the board's decision back to the board on the basis of the lack of evidence to support the decision.

We have 30 days to file our response brief (by June 21), and SPS has 15 days after (by July 6) to file its rebuttal. Our attorney tells me that a hearing will be scheduled after all briefs have been filed.

Much more on the initial, successful rollback of Seattle's Discovery Math program here

May 22, 2010

New curriculum: Math anxiety for students, teachers

Aileen Dodd & John Perry:

Under the state's new math curriculum, lower scores plus a quicker pace of instruction equal greater anxiety for both students and their teachers.

"In my classes, I have 60 kids and only 17 are passing. You know how stressful that is on me?" said Donna Aker, a veteran math teacher at South Gwinnett High School.

It's a problem common to many metro Atlanta schools. Nearly one in five ninth-graders in metro Atlanta last year got an F in Math I -- the first year of the state's new math curriculum in high school.

The math failure rate was more than double that experienced by the same group of kids in the eighth grade the year before.

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May 14, 2010

Math class needs a makeover

Dan Meyer:

Today's math curriculum is teaching students to expect -- and excel at -- paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. Dan Meyer shows classroom-tested math exercises that prompt students to stop and think. (Recorded at TEDxNYED, March 2010 in New York, NY. Duration: 11:39)

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May 10, 2010


Kudzu, (Pueraria lobata), I learn from Wikipedia, was "...introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the early 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers in the southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion... The Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years. It was subsequently discovered that the southeastern US has near-perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control--hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, and temperate winters with few hard freezes...As such, the once-promoted plant was named a pest weed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1953."

We now have, I suggest, an analogous risk from the widespread application of "the evidence-based techniques and processes of literacy instruction, k-12." At least one major foundation and one very old and influential college for teachers are now promoting what I have described as "guidelines, parameters, checklists, techniques, rubrics, processes and the like, as props to substitute for students' absent motivation to describe or express in writing something that they have learned."

Most of these literacy experts are psychologists and educators, rather than historians or authors of literature. Samuel Johnson, an 18th century author some may remember, once wrote that "an author will turn over half a library to produce one book." A recent major foundation report suggests that Dr. Johnson didn't know what he was talking about when it comes to adolescents:

"Some educators feel that the 'adolescent literacy crisis' can be resolved simply by having adolescents read more books. This idea is based on the misconception that the source of the problem is 'illiteracy.' The truth is that adolescents--even those who have already 'learned how to read'--need systematic support to learn how to 'read to learn' across a wide variety of contexts and content." So, no need for adolescents to read books, just give them lots of literacy kudzu classes in "rubrics, guidelines, parameters, checklists, techniques, and processes..."

Other literacy kudzu specialists also suggest that reading books is not so important, instead that: (to quote a recent Washington Post article by Psychologist Dolores Perin of Teachers College, Columbia) "many students cannot learn well from a content curriculum because they have difficulty reading assigned text and fulfilling subject-area writing assignments. Secondary content teachers need to understand literacy processes and become aware of evidence-based reading and writing techniques to promote learners' understanding of the content material being taught. Extended school-based professional development should be provided through collaborations between literacy and content-area specialists."

E.D. Hirsch has called this "technique" philosophy of literacy instruction, "How-To-Ism" and says that it quite uselessly tries to substitute methods and skills for the knowledge that students must have in order to read well and often, and to write on academic subjects in school.

Literacy Kudzu has been with us for a long time, but it has received new fertilizer from large private foundation and now federal standards grants which will only help it choke, where it can, attention to the reading of complete books and the writing of serious academic papers by the students in our schools.

Writing in, Lisa Roney recently said: "But let me also point out that the rise of Composition Studies over the past 30 or 40 years does not seem to have led to a populace that writes better."

Educrat Professors and Educrat Psychologists who have, perhaps, missed learning much about history and literature during their own educations, and have not made any obvious attempt to study their value in their education research, of course fall back on what they feel they can do: teach processes, skills, methods, rubrics, parameters, and techniques of literacy instruction. Their efforts, wherever they are successful, will be a disaster, in my view, for teachers and students who care about academic writing and about history and literature in the schools.

In a recent issue of Harvard Magazine an alum wrote: "Dad ( a professional writer) used to tell us what he felt was the best advice he ever had on good writing. One of his professors was the legendary Charles Townsend Copeland, A.B. 1882, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. Copeland didn't collect themes and grade them. Rather, he made an appointment with each student to come to his quarters in Hollis Hall to read his theme and receive comments from the Master..."Dad started reading his offering and heard occasional groans and sighs of anguish from various locations in the (room). Finally, Copeland said in pained tones, 'Stop, Mr. Duncan, stop.' Dad stopped. After several seconds of deep silence, Copeland asked, 'Mr. Duncan, what are you trying to say?' Dad explained what he was trying to say. Said Copeland, 'Why didn't you write it down?'"

This is the sort of advice, completely foreign to the literacy kudzu community, which understands that in writing one first must have something to say (knowledge) and then one must work to express that knowledge so it may be understood. That may not play to the literacy kudzu community's perception of their strengths, but it has a lot more to do with academic reading and writing than anything they are working to inflict on our teachers and students.

I hope they, including the foundations and the university consultant world, may before too long pause to re-consider their approach to literacy instruction, before we experience the damage from this pest-weed which they are presently, perhaps unwittingly, in the method-technique-process of spreading in our schools.

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May 9, 2010

Math Geek Mom: A Meeting 140 Years in the Making

Rosemarie Emanuele:

The idea of a tangent line is central to many aspects of mathematics. In geometry, we study when a line rests on another figure at just one point, the point of tangency. In calculus, the slope of the line tangent to a curve at a point becomes the "derivative" of that curve at that point. One can even think of tangencies in more than one dimension. Imagine an (x,y) plane drawn on a table with a three dimensional object resting on it. One can therefore find a point of tangency in the x direction, and also one in the y direction. I found myself thinking of this recently when two dates almost coincided this past week. This past week, I celebrated my birthday and in a few days I will celebrate Mother's Day. In many ways, these two dates are tangential in two dimensions.

They are tangential in the sense that this year they both appear in the same week, with my birthday on Tuesday and Mother's Day on Sunday. In the years in which we wanted to be parents but could not, Mother's Day was a painful day that I often wished would just go away. I was most disturbed when the church I went to focused on mothers and Mother's Day, leaving those of us without children feeling like second class citizens. I would often leave crying, with my heart even more broken.

It was during those years that I discovered the true history of Mother's Day, which made the pain of the day seem less stinging. For, despite what the people at the greeting card companies want us to believe, Mother's Day began as a day of Peace, with a call to all mothers to pause for a minute to work to create a world in which peace could thrive. I have a copy of the original declaration of Mother's Day, written in 1870 by Juliet Ward Howe, hanging on my office door. It invites mothers to take a day away from their chores to help build a better world for all of our children. The celebration on Sunday is therefore much more than an excuse to buy flowers or chocolate (but I will still happily take the chocolate, thank you!)

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May 5, 2010

School Reform: What Jaime Escalante Taught Us That Hollywood Left Out

Heather Kirn Lanier, via a kind reader's email:

"Serious reform like Escalante's cannot be accomplished single-handedly in one isolated classroom; it requires change throughout a department and even in neighboring schools."

In real life, though, Escalante didn't teach the calculus course until his fifth year. In his first attempt, five students completed the course and two passed the AP test. A critic might write "just five students" or "only two," though anyone familiar with both the difficulty of the exam and the extent of math deficiencies in an underperforming school recognizes this as a laudable feat.

Still, it took Escalante eight years to build the math program that achieved what "Stand and Deliver" shows: a class of 18 who pass with flying colors. During this time, he convinced the principal, Henry Gradillas, to raise the school's math requirements; he designed a pipeline of courses to prepare Garfield's students for AP calculus; he became department head and hand-selected top teachers for his feeder courses; he and Gradillas even influenced the area junior high schools to offer algebra. In other words, to achieve his AP students' success, he transformed the school's math department. Escalante himself emphasized in interviews that no student went the way of the film's Angel: from basic math in one year to AP calculus in the next.

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May 3, 2010

Math: I might not be smarter than a third-grader

Ben Bromley, via a kind reader:

It's 6:30 p.m., that after-dinner time slot when my daughter and I play our least-favorite game show, "Are You Smarter Than A Third-Grader?"

Claire's homework often consists of a page of math problems. And when a math-averse third-grader teams with her writer father to tackle the evening's homework, what typically results is math problems.

My daughter is a bookworm and, like her father, a bit of a right-brainer. We are the type of people who can conjugate verbs in multiple languages, sketch the image of a long-lost friend from memory, or summarize the day's events in haiku. But we couldn't balance a checkbook if the Earth's fate depended on it.

A sheet of math problems gives us a cold chill, like when someone walks over your grave, or you accidentally walk in on your grandmother in the bathtub. Claire already is being asked to multiply and divide double-digit figures, and last week she brought home a worksheet requiring her to compute the area and volume of prisms. I don't remember being asked to handle such concepts in third grade. But maybe I blocked it out, just like the mental image of Grandma in the tub.

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April 29, 2010

Bill Gates visits Foothill to observe math program

Town Crier:

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp. and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attended math class at Foothill College April 20.

The software pioneer visited the Los Altos Hills campus to do some homework on Foothill's Math My Way program, designed to help students grasp basic math concepts, outperform their peers and advance faster to college-level math classes.

Nineteen Math My Way students were told in advance that a special guest wanted to observe instructors Nicole Gray of Sunnyvale, Rachel Mudge of Mountain View and Kathy Perino of Campbell, to gain a better understanding of how they teach developmental math. Students were surprised when Gates and members of his foundation walked into the classroom, but quickly got to work on the math problems at hand. Later, the students had an opportunity to talk with Gates about how the methods used in the class are making a difference for them.

Gates and his team are reviewing models and best practices in developmental mathematics education. They heard about Math My Way during a meeting at the Gates Foundation offices in Seattle with Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda Thor, who was invited to discuss her experiences with online learning programs.

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April 26, 2010

Confessions of a Math Major

Barry Garelick:

In the fall of 1970, I dropped out of the University of Michigan during my senior year with the intention of never re turning. I was a math major and I convinced myself that I would have a better chance being a writer than a mathematician

In the fall of 1970, I dropped out of the University of Michigan during my senior year with the intention of never re turning. I was a math major and I convinced myself that I would have a better chance being a writer than a mathematician. I figured I would work at any job I could get to support myself. The only job I could get was unloading telephone books from a truck into the cars of people who were to deliver them. The job was to last three days--I quit after the first. During that first day, around the time when my arms became like rubber and I could hardly even lift one phone book, I had a flash of insight and decided to return to school and get my degree. Then I would become a writer. In the summer of 1971, I got my degree, and vowed to never again set foot in another math classroom in my life, and told myself that if I ever did I would puke.

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April 16, 2010

U.S. Falls Short in Measure of Future Middle School Math Teachers

Sam Dillon:

America's future math teachers, on average, earned a C on a new test comparing their skills with their counterparts in 15 other countries, significantly outscoring college students in the Philippines and Chile but placing far below those in educationally advanced nations like Singapore and Taiwan.

The researchers who led the math study in this country, to be released in Washington on Thursday, judged the results acceptable if not encouraging for America's future elementary teachers. But they called them disturbing for American students heading to careers in middle schools, who were outscored by students in Germany, Poland, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan.

On average, 80 percent to 100 percent of the future middle school teachers from the highest-achieving countries took advanced courses like linear algebra and calculus, while only 50 percent to 60 percent of their counterparts in the United States took those courses, the study said.

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April 8, 2010

Young Wisconsin students' math improves; high schoolers weaken

Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

Wisconsin students continued to make steady gains in math proficiency in 2009-'10, boasting their best performance in five years, even as reading scores remained flat over that same time period, according to statewide test results released Wednesday.

Yet even though the overall proportion of students deemed proficient or advanced in math increased to 77.3% on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations from 72.8% in 2005-'06, the share of students considered at least proficient in 10th grade - the highest grade tested - decreased in that time.

The share of Wisconsin 10th-graders who scored proficient or advanced in math was 69.8% this school year, compared with 71.6% five years ago.

Meanwhile, reading proficiency remained almost constant, with 81.6% of students considered proficient or advanced on this year's test vs. 81.7% in 2005-'06, when the current version of the WKCE first was implemented.

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April 7, 2010

Math lessons in Mandarin? Local schools go global

Linda Shaw:

For nearly an hour, no one speaks a word of English in this first-grade math class.

Not the teacher, Ying Ying Wu, who talks energetically in Mandarin's songlike tones.

Not the students -- 6- and 7-year-olds who seem to follow along fine, even though only one speaks Mandarin at home.

Even the math test has been translated, by Wu, into Chinese characters.

At Beacon Hill International School, many students learn a second language along with their ABCs by spending half of each school day immersed in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish.

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April 6, 2010

K-12 Math: The Separate Path and the Well Travelled Road

Barry Garelick:

It explores two different approaches to math; one is representative of the fuzzy math side of things, and the other is in the traditionalist camp. I make it clear what side I'm on. I talk about how the fuzzy side uses what I call a "separate path" in which students are given open ended and ill posed problems as a means to teach them how to apply prior knowledge in new situations. I present two different problems, one representing each camp.

The math may prove challenging for some readers, though high school math teachers should have no problems with it.

Much has been written about the debate on how best to teach math to students in K-12--a debate often referred to as the "math wars". I have written much about it myself, and since the debate shows no signs of easing, I continue to have reasons to keep writing about it. While the debate is complex, the following two math problems provide a glimpse of two opposing sides:

Problem 1: How many boxes would be needed to pack and ship one million books collected in a school-based book drive? In this problem the size of the books is unknown and varied, and the size of the boxes is not stated.

Problem 2: Two boys canoeing on a lake hit a rock where the lake joins a river. One boy is injured and it is critical to get a doctor to him as quickly as possible. Two doctors live nearby: one up-river and the other across the lake, both equidistant from the boys. The unhurt boy has to fetch a doctor and return to the spot. Is it quicker for him to row up the river and back, or go across the lake and back, assuming he rows at the same constant rate of speed in both cases?

The first problem is representative of a thought-world inhabited by education schools and much of the education establishment. The second problem is held in disdain by the same, but favored by a group of educators and math oriented people who for lack of a better term are called "traditionalists".

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April 4, 2010

Jaime Escalante didn't just stand and deliver. He changed U.S. schools forever.

Jay Matthews:

From 1982 to 1987 I stalked Jaime Escalante, his students and his colleagues at Garfield High School, a block from the hamburger-burrito stands, body shops and bars of Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. I was the Los Angeles bureau chief for The Washington Post, allegedly covering the big political, social and business stories of the Western states, but I found it hard to stay away from that troubled high school.

I would show up unannounced, watch Jaime teach calculus, chat with Principal Henry Gradillas, check in with other Advanced Placement classes and in the early afternoon call my editor in Washington to say I was chasing down the latest medfly outbreak story, or whatever seemed believable at the time.

Escalante, who died Tuesday from cancer at age 79, did not become nationally famous until 1988, when the feature film about him, "Stand and Deliver," was released, and my much-less-noticed book, "Escalante: The Best Teacher in America," also came out. I had been drawn to him, as filmmakers Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca were, by the story of a 1982 cheating scandal. Eighteen Escalante students had passed the Advanced Placement Calculus AB exam. Fourteen were accused of cheating by the Educational Testing Service, based on similarities in their answers. Twelve took the test again, this time heavily proctored, and passed again.

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April 1, 2010

Jaime Escalante dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver'

Elaine Woo:

Jaime Escalante, the charismatic former East Los Angeles high school teacher who taught the nation that inner-city students could master subjects as demanding as calculus, died Tuesday. He was 79.

The subject of the 1988 film "Stand and Deliver," Escalante died at his son's home in Roseville, Calif., said actor Edward James Olmos, who portrayed the teacher in the film. Escalante had bladder cancer.

"Jaime didn't just teach math. Like all great teachers, he changed lives," Olmos said earlier this month when he organized an appeal for funds to help pay Escalante's mounting medical bills.

Escalante gained national prominence in the aftermath of a 1982 scandal surrounding 14 of his Garfield High School students who passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam only to be accused later of cheating.

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March 29, 2010

Research concludes that students don't learn more science under Chicago Public Schools College-Prep-for-All Policy

Nicholas Montgomery & Elaine Allensworth:

A Chicago Public Schools policy that dramatically increased science requirements did not help students learn more science and actually may have hurt their college prospects, according to a new report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

The science policy was part of a larger CPS initiative to expose all students to a college-preparatory curriculum by increasing course requirements across a range of subjects.

Though CPS high school students took and passed more college-prep science courses under the new policy, overall performance in science classes did not improve, with five of every six students earning Cs or lower. College-going rates declined significantly among graduates with a B average or better in science, and they dipped for all students when researchers controlled for changes in student characteristics over time.

Commentary from Melissa Westbrook.

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March 24, 2010

Math Puts a Decision from M.I.T. in Context

Erik Bates:

Knowing pi to 30 digits is not something I regularly brag about. In fact, a teacher told me the length to which one can recite pi is inversely related to one's chances of obtaining a date. That may be true, but I thought it would at least increase my chances of receiving admission to M.I.T.

Befittingly, the university posted admission decisions on 3/14 at 1:59, the time of pi day universally enjoyed among fellow nerds.

Unfortunately, my logic proved incorrect, as I was not offered admittance into M.I.T.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 23, 2010

Will Issaquah Pick Poor Math Books?

Charlie Mas:

Issaquah and Sammamish are home to a well educated population, many of which are employed in professional and high tech occupations. Thus, it is surprising that the Issaquah School District administration is doing everything possible to place very poor math books in its schools.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 24) night the Issaquah School Board will vote on the administration's recommendation for the Discovering Math series in their high schools. These are very poor math texts:

(1) Found to be "unsound" by mathematicians hired the State Board of Education.
(2) Found to be inferior to a more traditional series (Holt) by pilot tests by the Bellevue School District
(3) That have been rejected by Bellevue, Lake Washington, North Shore, and Shoreline (to name only a few)
(4) Whose selection by the Seattle School District was found to be arbitrary and capricious by King County Judge Spector.
(5) That are classic, weak, inquiry or "reform" math textbooks that stress group work, student investigations, and calculator use over the acquisition of key math skills.

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"Anything But Knowledge": "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach"

from The Burden of Bad Ideas Heather Mac Donald, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.

America's nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation's teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores--things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. "Let's be honest," darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University's Teachers College last February. "What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?" It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.

The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation's teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)--self-actualization, following one's joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity--but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in "constructing one's own knowledge," or "contextualized knowledge." Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.

The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to "professionalize" teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats' pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.

The course in "Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education" that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.

As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson's course doesn't give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn't either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by "building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing." On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be "getting the students to develop the subtext of what they're doing." I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.

"Developing the subtext" turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. After taking attendance and--most admirably--quickly checking the students' weekly handwriting practice, Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light "texts," both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions; "What excites me about teaching?" "What concerns me about teaching?" and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: "What was it like to do this writing?"

This last question triggers a quickening volley of self-reflexive turns. After the students read aloud their predictable reflections on teaching, Professor Nelson asks: "What are you hearing?" A young man states the obvious: "Everyone seems to be reflecting on what their anxieties are." This is too straightforward an answer. Professor Nelson translates into ed-speak: "So writing gave you permission to think on paper about what's there." Ed-speak dresses up the most mundane processes in dramatic terminology--one doesn't just write, one is "given permission to think on paper"; one doesn't converse, one "negotiates meaning." Then, like a champion tennis player finishing off a set, Nelson reaches for the ultimate level of self-reflexivity and drives it home: "What was it like to listen to each other's responses?"

The self-reflection isn't over yet, however. The class next moves into small groups--along with in-class writing, the most pervasive gimmick in progressive classrooms today--to discuss a set of student-teaching guidelines. After ten minutes, Nelson interrupts the by-now lively and largely off-topic conversations, and asks: "Let's talk about how you felt in these small groups." The students are picking up ed-speak. "It shifted the comfort zone," reveals one. "It was just acceptance; I felt the vibe going through the group." Another adds: "I felt really comfortable; I had trust there." Nelson senses a "teachable moment." "Let's talk about that," she interjects. "We are building trust in this class; we are learning how to work with each other."

Now, let us note what this class was not: it was not about how to keep the attention of eight-year-olds or plan a lesson or make the Pilgrims real to first-graders. It did not, in other words, contain any material (with the exception of the student-teacher guidelines) from the outside world. Instead, it continuously spun its own subject matter out of itself. Like a relationship that consists of obsessively analyzing the relationship, the only content of the course was the course itself.

How did such navel-gazing come to be central to teacher education? It is the almost inevitable consequence of the Anything But Knowledge doctrine, born in a burst of quintessentially American anti-intellectual fervor in the wake of World War I. Educators within the federal government and at Columbia's Teachers College issued a clarion call to schools: cast off the traditional academic curriculum and start preparing young people for the demands of modern life. America is a forward-looking country, they boasted; what need have we for such impractical disciplines as Greek, Latin, and higher math? Instead, let the students then flooding the schools take such useful courses as family membership, hygiene, and the worthy use of leisure time. "Life adjustment," not wisdom or learning, was to be the goal of education.

The early decades of this century forged the central educational fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to think about. Knowledge is changing too fast to be transmitted usefully to students, argued William Heard Kilpatrick of Teachers College, the most influential American educator of the century; instead of teaching children dead facts and figures, schools should teach them "critical thinking," he wrote in 1925. What matters is not what you know, but whether you know how to look it up, so that you can be a "lifelong learner."

Two final doctrines rounded out the indelible legacy of progressivism. First, Harold Rugg's The Child-Centered School (1928) shifted the locus of power in the classroom from the teacher to the student. In a child-centered class, the child determines what he wants to learn. Forcing children into an existing curriculum inhibits their self-actualization, Rugg argued, just as forcing them into neat rows of chairs and desks inhibits their creativity. The teacher becomes an enabler, an advisor; not, heaven forbid, the transmitter of a pre-existing body of ideas, texts, or worst of all, facts. In today's jargon, the child should "construct" his own knowledge rather than passively receive it. Bu the late 1920s, students were moving their chairs around to form groups of "active learners" pursuing their own individual interests, and, instead of a curriculum, the student-centered classroom followed just one principle: "activity leading to further activity without badness," in Kilpatrick's words. Today's educators still present these seven-decades-old practices as cutting-edge.

As E.D. Hirsch observes, the child-centered doctrines grew out of the romantic idealization of children. If the child was, in Wordsworth's words, a "Mighty Prophet! Seer Blest!" then who needs teachers? But the Mighty Prophet emerged from student-centered schools ever more ignorant and incurious as the schools became more vacuous. By the 1940s and 1950s, schools were offering classes in how to put on nail polish and how to act on a date. The notion that learning should push students out of their narrow world had been lost.

The final cornerstone of progressive theory was the disdain for report cards and objective tests of knowledge. These inhibit authentic learning, Kilpatrick argued; and he carried the day, to the eternal joy of students everywhere.

The foregoing doctrines are complete bunk, but bunk that has survived virtually unchanged to the present. The notion that one can teach "metacognitive" thinking in the abstract is senseless. Students need to learn something to learn how to learn at all. The claim that prior knowledge is superfluous because one can always look it up, preferably on the Internet, is equally senseless. Effective research depends on preexisting knowledge. Moreover, if you don't know in what century the atomic bomb was dropped without rushing to an encyclopedia, you cannot fully participate in society. Lastly, Kilpatrick's influential assertion that knowledge was changing too fast to be taught presupposes a blinkered definition of knowledge that excludes the great works and enterprises of the past.

The rejection of testing rests on premises as flawed as the push for "critical thinking skills." Progressives argue that if tests exist, then teachers will "teach to the test"--a bad thing, in their view. But why would "teaching to a test" that asked for, say, the causes of the [U.S.] Civil War be bad for students? Additionally, progressives complain that testing provokes rote memorization--again, a bad thing. One of the most tragically influential education professors today, Columbia's Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, an advocacy group for increased teacher "professionalization," gives a telling example of what she considers a criminally bad test in her hackneyed 1997 brief for progressive education, The Right to Learn. She points disdainfully to the following question from the 1995 New York State Regents Exam in biology (required for high school graduation) as "a rote recall of isolated facts and vocabulary terms": "The tissue which conducts organic food through a vascular plant is composed of: (1) Cambium cells; (2) Xylem cells; (3) Phloem cells; (4) Epidermal cells."

Only a know-nothing could be offended by so innocent a question. It never occurs to Darling-Hammond that there may be a joy in mastering the parts of a plant or the organelles of a cell, and that such memorization constitutes learning. Moreover, when, in the progressives' view, will a student ever be held accountable for such knowledge? Does Darling-Hammond believe that a student can pursue a career in, say, molecular biology or in medicine without it? And how else will that learning be demonstrated, if not in a test? But of course such testing will produce unequal results, and that is the real target of Darling-Hammond's animus.

Once you dismiss real knowledge as the goal of education, you have to find something else to do. That's why the Anything But Knowledge doctrine leads directly to Professor Nelson's odd course. In thousands of education schools across the country, teachers are generating little moments of meaning, which they then subject to instant replay. Educators call this "constructing knowledge," a fatuous label for something that is neither construction nor knowledge but mere game-playing. Teacher educators, though, posses a primitive relationship to words. They believe that if they just label something "critical thinking" or "community-building," these activities will magically occur...

The Anything But Knowledge credo leaves education professors and their acolytes free to concentrate on more pressing matters than how to teach the facts of history or the rules of sentence construction. "Community-building" is one of their most urgent concerns. Teacher educators conceive of their classes as sites of profound political engagement, out of which the new egalitarian order will emerge. A case in point is Columbia's required class, "Teaching English in Diverse Social and Cultural Contexts," taught by Professor Barbara Tenney (a pseudonym). "I want to work at a very conscious level with you to build community in this class," Tenney tells her attentive students on the first day of the semester this spring. "You can do it consciously, and you ought to do it in your own classes." Community-building starts by making nameplates for our desks. Then we all find a partner to interview about each other's "identity." Over the course of the semester, each student will conduct two more "identity" interviews with different partners. After the interview, the inevitable self-reflexive moment arrives, when Tenney asks: "How did it work?" This is a sign that we are on our way to "constructing knowledge."...

All this artificial "community-building," however gratifying to the professors, has nothing to do with learning. Learning is ultimately a solitary activity: we have only one brain, and at some point we must exercise it in private. One could learn an immense amount about Schubert's lieder or calculus without ever knowing the name of one's seatmate. Such a view is heresy to the education establishment, determined, as Rita Kramer has noted, to eradicate any opportunity for individual accomplishment, with its sinister risk of superior achievement. For the educrats, the group is the irreducible unit of learning. Fueling this principle is the gap in achievement between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and other minorities on the other. Unwilling to adopt the discipline and teaching practices that would help reduce the gap, the education establishment tries to conceal it under group projects....

The consequences of the Anything But Knowledge credo for intellectual standards have been dire. Education professors are remarkably casual when it comes to determining whether their students actually know anything, rarely asking them, for example, what can you tell us about the American Revolution? The ed schools incorrectly presume that students have learned everything they need to know in their other or previous college courses, and that the teacher certification exam will screen out people who didn't.

Even if college education were reliably rigorous and comprehensive, education majors aren't the students most likely to profit from it. Nationally, undergraduate education majors have lower SAT and ACT scores than students in any other program of study. Only 16 percent of education majors scored in the top quartile of 1992-1993 graduates, compared with 33 percent of humanities majors. Education majors were overrepresented in the bottom quartile, at 30 percent. In New York City, many education majors have an uncertain command of English--I saw one education student at City College repeatedly write "choce" for "choice"-- and appear altogether ill at ease in a classroom. To presume anything about this population without a rigorous content exit exam is unwarranted.

The laissez-faire attitude toward student knowledge rests on "principled" grounds, as well as on see-no-evil inertia. Many education professors embrace the facile post-structuralist view that knowledge is always political. "An education program can't have content [knowledge] specifics," explains Migdalia Romero, chair of Hunter College's Department of Curriculum and Teaching, "because then you have a point of view. Once you define exactly what finite knowledge is, it becomes a perspective." The notion that culture could possess a pre-political common store of texts and idea is anathema to the modern academic.

The most powerful dodge regurgitates William Heard Kilpatrick's classic "critical thinking" scam. Asked whether a future teacher should know the date of the 1812 war, Professor Romero replied: "Teaching and learning is not about dates, facts, and figures, but about developing critical thinking." When pressed if there were not some core facts that a teacher or student should know, she valiantly held her ground. "There are two ways of looking at teaching and learning," she replied. "Either you are imparting knowledge, giving an absolute knowledge base, or teaching and learning is about dialogue, a dialogue that helps to internalize and to raise questions." Though she offered the disclaimer "of course you need both," Romero added that teachers don't have to know everything, because they can always look things up....

Disregard for language runs deep in the teacher education profession, so much so that ed school professors tolerate glaring language deficiencies in schoolchildren. Last January, Manhattan's Park West High School shut down for a day, so that its faculty could bone up on progressive pedagogy. One of the more popular staff development seminars ws "Using Journals and Learning Logs." The presenters--two Park West teachers and a representative from the New York City Writing Project, an anti-grammar initiative run by the Lehman College's Education School--proudly passed around their students' journal writing, including the following representative entry on "Matriarchys v. pratiarchys [sic]": "The different between Matriarchys and patriarchys is that when the mother is in charge of the house. sometime the children do whatever they want. But sometimes the mother can do both roll as mother and as a father too and they can do it very good." A more personal entry described how the author met her boyfriend: "He said you are so kind I said you noticed and then he hit me on my head. I made-believe I was crying and when he came naire me I slaped him right in his head and than I my grandparients home and he was right behind me. Thats when he asked did I have a boyfriend."

The ubiquitous journal-writing cult holds that such writing should go uncorrected. Fortunately, some Park West teachers bridled at the notion. "At some point, the students go into the job market, and they're not being judged 'holistically,'" protested a black teacher, responding to the invocation of the state's "holistic" model for grading writing. Another teacher bemoaned the Board of Ed's failure to provide guidance on teaching grammar. "My kids are graduating without skills," he lamented.

Such views, however, were decidedly in the minority. "Grammar is related to purpose," soothed the Lehman College representative, educrat code for the proposition that asking students to write grammatically on topics they are not personally "invested in" is unrealistic. A Park West presenter burst out with a more direct explanation for his chilling indifference to student incompetence. "I'm not going to spend my life doing error diagnosis! I'm not going to spend my weekend on that!" Correcting papers used to be part of the necessary drudgery of a teacher's job. No more, with the advent of enlightened views about "self-expression" and "writing with intentionality."

However easygoing the educational establishment is regarding future teachers' knowledge of history, literature, and science, there is one topic that it assiduously monitors: their awareness of racism. To many teacher educators, such an awareness is the most important tool a young teacher can bring to the classroom. It cannot be developed too early. Rosa, a bouncy and enthusiastic junior at Hunter College, has completed only her first semester of education courses, but already she has mastered the most important lesson: American is a racist, imperialist country, most like, say, Nazi Germany. "We are lied to by the very institutions we have come to trust," she recalls from her first-semester reading. "It's all government that's inventing these lies, such as Western heritage."

The source of Rosa's newfound wisdom, Donald Macedo's Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know, is an execrable book by any measure. But given its target audience--impressionable education students--it comes close to being a crime. Widely assigned at Hunter, and in use in approximately 150 education schools nationally, it is an illiterate, barbarically ignorant Marxist-inspired screed against America. Macedo opens his first chapter, "Literacy for Stupidification: The Pedagogy of Big Lies," with a quote from Hitler and quickly segues to Ronald Reagan: "While busily calling out slogans from their patriotic vocabulary memory warehouse, these same Americans dutifully vote...for Ronald him a landslide victory...These same voters ascended [sic] to Bush's morally high-minded call to apply international laws against Saddam Hussein's tyranny and his invasion of Kuwait." Standing against this wave of ignorance and imperialism is a lone 12-year-old from Boston, whom Macedo celebrates for his courageous refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

What does any of this have to do with teaching? Everything, it turns out. In the 1960s, educational progressivism took on an explicitly political cast: schools were to fight institutional racism and redistribute power. Today, Columbia's Teachers College holds workshops on cultural and political "oppression," in which students role-play ways to "usurp the existing power structure," and the New York State Regents happily call teachers "the ultimate change agents." To be a change agent, one must first learn to "critique" the existing social structure. Hence, the assignment of such propaganda as Macedo's book.

But Macedo is just one of the political tracts that Hunter force-fed the innocent Rosa in her first semester. She also learned about the evils of traditional children's stories from the education radical Herbert Kohl. In Should We Burn Babar? Kohl weighs the case for and against the dearly beloved children's classic, Babar the Elephant, noting in passing that it prevented him from "questioning the patriarchy earlier." He decides--but let Rosa expound the meaning of Kohl's book: "[Babar]'s like a children's book, right? [But] there's an underlying meaning about colonialism, about like colonialism, and is it OK, it's really like it's OK, but it's like really offensive to the people." Better burn Babar now!...

Though the current diversity battle cry is "All students can learn," the educationists continually lower expectations of what they should learn. No longer are students expected to learn all their multiplication tables in the third grade, as has been traditional. But while American educators come up with various theories about fixed cognitive phases to explain why our children should go slow, other nationalities trounce us. Sometimes, we're trounced in our own backyards, causing cognitive dissonance in local teachers.

A young student at Teachers College named Susan describes incredulously a Korean-run preschool in Queens. To her horror, the school, the Holy Mountain School, violates every progressive tenet: rather than being "student-centered" and allowing each child to do whatever he chooses, the school imposes a curriculum on the children, based on the alphabet. "Each week, the children get a different letter," Susan recalls grimly. Such an approach violates "whole language" doctrine, which holds that students can't "grasp the [alphabetic] symbols without the whole word or the meaning or any context in their lives." In Susan's words, Holy Mountain's further infractions include teaching its wildly international students only in English and failing to provide an "anti-bias multicultural curriculum." The result? By the end of preschool the children learn English and are writing words. Here is the true belief in the ability of all children to learn, for it is backed up by action....

Given progressive education's dismal record, all New Yorkers should tremble at what the Regents have in store for the state. The state's teacher education establishment, led by Columbia's Linda Darling-Hammond, has persuaded the Regents to make its monopoly on teacher credentialing total. Starting in 2003, according to the Regents plan steaming inexorably toward adoption, all teacher candidates must pass through an education school to be admitted to a classroom. We know, alas, what will happen to them there.

This power grab will be a disaster for children. By making ed school inescapable, the Regents will drive away every last educated adult who may not be willing to sit still for its foolishness but who could bring to the classroom unusual knowledge or experience. The nation's elite private schools are full of such people, and parents eagerly proffer tens of thousands of dollars to give their children the benefit of such skill and wisdom.

Amazingly, even the Regents, among the nation's most addled education bodies, sporadically acknowledge what works in the classroom. A Task Force on Teaching paper cites some of the factors that allow other countries to wallop us routinely in international tests: a high amount of lesson content (in other words, teacher-centered, not student-centered, learning), individual tracking of students, and a coherent curriculum. The state should cling steadfastly to its momentary insight, at odds with its usual policies, and discard its foolish plan to enshrine Anything But Knowledge as its sole education dogma. Instead of permanently establishing the teacher education status quo, it should search tirelessly for alternatives and for potential teachers with a firm grasp of subject matter and basic skills. Otherwise ed school claptrap will continue to stunt the intellectual growth of the Empire State's children.

[Heather Mac Donald graduated summa cum laude from Yale, and earned an M.A. at Cambridge University. She holds the J.D. degree from Stanford Law School, and is a John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal]

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Seattle Math Group Update

Martha McLaren:

Thanks to all the people who have written, expressing your support and dedication to this effort, and also to those who have so generously made financial donations. We are many, many people nationwide standing in solidarity in our commitment to make effective math education accessible to all students.

I apologize to those who have looked for news recently on this blog: I've been following other math ed news, but little has been happening directly regarding our lawsuit, so I haven't sat down to give updates.

In the last 6 weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for our lawsuit and its outcome, as well a surge of determination to deflect the tide of inquiry-based math instruction that has flooded so many of our schools. I've been very moved by letters from parents who have struggled (heroically, and often poignantly, it seems to me) to support their children in developing strong math skills despite curricula that they found confusing, unintelligible, and deeply discouraging. I strongly believe that, whether the Seattle School District's appeal of Judge Spector's decision succeeds or fails, the continuing legal action will only heighten public awareness of the tragic and devastating results of the nationwide inquiry-based math experiment. The public NEEDS TO KNOW about this debacle. I think/hope that our lawsuit and its aftermath are helping this to happen.

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March 22, 2010

Biases Said to Hinder Women in Math, Science

Tamar Lewin:

A report on the underrepresentation of women in science and math by the American Association of University Women, to be released today, found that although women have made gains, stereotypes and cultural biases still impede their success.

The report, "Why So Few?" supported by the National Science Foundation, examined decades of research to gather recommendations for drawing more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields.

"We scanned the literature for research with immediate applicability," said Catherine Hill, the university women's research director and lead author of the report. "We found a lot of small things can make a difference, like a course in spatial skills for women going into engineering, or teaching children that math ability is not fixed, but grows with effort."

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March 18, 2010

What Values Are Apparent in Your School Textbooks?

Holly Epstein Ojalvo:

Students: Take a look at some of the changes to the Texas curriculum, and then at a passage from your own American history or government textbook. Considering word choice and the inclusion and treatment of leaders and movements, what values and ideas do you think it conveys? What connotations do the terms used have for you? Tell us what ideas you think are expressed in how your textbook is written.

Adults, please note: Though, of course, anyone can be a "student" at any age, we ask that adults respect the intent of the Student Opinion question and refrain from posting here. There are many other places on the site for adults to post, while this is the only place that explicitly invites the voices of young people.

Math textbooks are an area ripe for this type of inquiry.

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March 11, 2010

School Districts vs. A Good Math Education

Charlie Mas:

If you are a parent in cities such as Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle, your kids are being short-changed--being provided an inferior math education that could cripple their future aspirations--and you need to act. This blog will tell the story of an unresponsive and wrong-headed educational bureaucracies that are dead set on continuing in the current direction. And it will tell the story of how this disaster can be turned around. Parent or not, your future depends on dealing with the problem.

Let me provide you with a view from the battlefield of the math "wars", including some information that is generally not known publicly, or has been actively suppressed by the educational establishment. Of lawsuits and locking parents out of decision making.

I know that some of you would rather that I only talk about weather, but the future of my discipline and of our highly technological society depends on mathematically literate students. Increasingly, I am finding bright students unable to complete a major in atmospheric sciences. All their lives they wanted to be a meteorologist and problems with math had ended their dreams. Most of them had excellent math grades in high school. I have talked in the past about problems with reform or discovery math; an unproven ideology-based instructional approach in vogue among the educational establishment. An approach based on student's "discovering" math principles, group learning, heavy use of calculators, lack of practice and skills building, and heavy use of superficial "spiraling" of subject matter. As I have noted before in this blog, there is no competent research that shows that this approach works and plenty to show that it doesn't. But I have covered much of this already in earlier blogs.

Related: Math Forum audio / video.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:53 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 9, 2010

Algebra in Wonderland

Melanie Bayley:

SINCE "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Alice is Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford dean; the Lory and Eaglet are Alice's sisters Lorina and Edith; Dodgson himself, a stutterer, is the Dodo ("Do-Do-Dodgson").

But Alice's adventures with the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and so on have often been assumed to be based purely on wild imagination. Just fantastical tales for children -- and, as such, ideal material for the fanciful movie director Tim Burton, whose "Alice in Wonderland" opened on Friday.

Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice's search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson's field.

In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In "Alice," he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense -- using a technique familiar from Euclid's proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

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March 8, 2010

Fixing US STEM education is possible, but will take money

Todd Morton:

The state of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the United States has seen some unflattering appraisals in recent years, and deservedly so. In early February, the House of Representatives heard testimony on undergraduate and graduate education. The message from the panel, which included experts from academia, STEM-based industries, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), was clear: the problems in STEM education are well-known, and it's time to take action.

Both the hearing's charter and its chair, Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), pointed out the obvious problem in higher education: students start out interested, but the STEM programs are driving them away. As the National Academies described in its 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, successful STEM education is not just an academic pursuit--it's a necessity for competing in the knowledge-based economy that the United States had a key role in creating.

The potential for action comes thanks to the fact that the America COMPETES Act of 2007 is up for reauthorization. Its initial focus was on STEM education at the K-12 levels, but efforts at the undergraduate and graduate levels are needed to retain students to fill the jobs left vacant as baby boomers retire.

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From his sickbed, Jaime Escalante is still delivering

Esmeralda Bermudez:

There was a time in East Los Angeles when el maestro's el maestro's gruff voice bounced off his classroom walls. He roamed the aisles, he juggled oranges, he dressed in costumes, he punched the air; he called you names, he called your mom, he kicked you out, he lured you in; he danced, he boxed, he screamed, he whispered. He would do anything to get your attention.

"Ganas," he would say. "That's all you need. The desire to learn."

Nearly three decades later, Jaime Escalante finds himself far from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, the place that made him internationally famous for turning a generation of low-income students into calculus whizzes. Twenty-two years have passed since his classroom exploits were captured in the film "Stand and Deliver."

He is 79 and hunched in a wheelchair at a cancer treatment center in Reno. It is cold outside, and the snow-capped mountains that crown the city where his son brought him three weeks ago on a bed in the back of an old van remind him of his native Bolivia.

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March 7, 2010

Seattle Public Schools Appeal Discovery Math Implementation Court Loss

Martha McLaren:

Today we received notice of the Seattle School District's decision to appeal the Decision of Judge Spector which required the SPS board to reconsider its high school math text adoption vote.

I am deeply disappointed that SPS will funnel more resources into this appeal, which, I suspect, will be more costly than following the judge's instruction to reconsider.

Our attorney tells me: ".... I'll put in a notice of appearance, and then we wait for the District to complete the record by having the documents and transcripts transmitted to the Court of Appeals. They write the first brief, due 45 days after the record is complete.

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March 1, 2010

United STATES Coalition for World Class Math!

via a Jill Gladstone email:

The Florida State DOE posted (leaked) the January 13th confidential draft of the Common Core Standards in their Race to the Top Application. Thank you Florida!

Read them here:

January 13th Draft of Common Core Mathematics.pdf

January 13th Draft of Common English-language Arts.pdf

A few of NJ Coalition for World Class Math's Major Concerns on Jan. 13, 2010 Mathematics draft:

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February 25, 2010

More Rhetoric on the Seattle School District's Court Loss on the Use of Discovery Math

Melissa Westbrook:

For entertainment value read the Discovering Math Q&A in this article in the Seattle Times. The Discovering Math guy (1) doesn't always answer the question asked, (2) answers but doesn't address the topic properly - see the question on if Discovering Math is "mathematically unsound" and (3) sounds like he works for the district.

Here's one example:

The Discovering books have been criticized by parents, but they've been the top pick of a couple of districts in our area, including Seattle and Issaquah. Any thoughts on why the textbooks seem to be more popular with educators than with parents?

Ryan: I think because (parents) lack familiarity -- this doesn't look like what I was taught. I don't know how you get students to a place where more is required of them by repeating things that have been done in the past. That's not how we move forward in life.


Much more on the successful community lawsuit vs. the Seattle School District's implementation of Discovery Math. Math Forum audio / video.

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February 23, 2010

Khan Academy: Math & Science Lessons Online

Spencer Michels:

33-year-old math and science whiz kid -- working out of his house in California's Silicon Valley -- may be revolutionizing how people all over the world will learn math. He is Salman Khan, and until a few months ago he made his living as a hedge fund analyst. But he's become a kind of an unseen rock star in the online instruction field, posting 1200 lessons in math and science on YouTube, none of them lasting more than about 10 minutes. He quit his job at the hedge fund to devote full time to his Khan Academy teaching efforts, which he does essentially for free.

Khan explained how the U.S. unemployment rate is calculated in a NewsHour exclusive video.

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February 21, 2010

Skydiving without Parachutes: Seattle Court Decision Against Discovery Math Implementation

Barry Garelick:

"What's a court doing making a decision on math textbooks and curriculum?" This question and its associated harrumphs on various education blogs and online newspapers came in reaction to the February 4, 2010 ruling from the Superior court of King County that the Seattle school board's adoption of a discovery type math curriculum for high school was "arbitrary and capricious".

In fact, the court did not rule on the textbook or curriculum. Rather, it ruled on the school board's process of decision making--more accurately, the lack thereof. The court ordered the school board to revisit the decision. Judge Julie Spector found that the school board ignored key evidence--like the declaration from the state's Board of Education that the discovery math series under consideration was "mathematically unsound", the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction not recommending the curriculum and last but not least, information given to the board by citizens in public testimony.

The decision is an important one because it highlights what parents have known for a long time: School boards generally do what they want to do, evidence be damned. Discovery type math programs are adopted despite parent protests, despite evidence of experts and--judging by the case in Seattle--despite findings from the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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February 18, 2010

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.

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February 14, 2010

Seattle Citizen Lawsuit over Discovery Math Curriculum Court Transcript

107K PDF. Much more on the citizen's successful lawsuit vs. the Seattle Public Schools here.

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February 11, 2010

'Algebra-for-All' Push Found to Yield Poor Results

Debra Viadero:

Spurred by a succession of reports pointing to the importance of algebra as a gateway to college, educators and policymakers embraced "algebra for all" policies in the 1990s and began working to ensure that students take the subject by 9th grade or earlier.
A trickle of studies suggests that in practice, though, getting all students past the algebra hump has proved difficult and has failed, some of the time, to yield the kinds of payoffs educators seek.
Among the newer findings:

• An analysis using longitudinal statewide data on students in Arkansas and Texas found that, for the lowest-scoring 8th graders, even making it one course past Algebra 2 might not be enough to help them become "college and career ready" by the end of high school.

• An evaluation of the Chicago public schools' efforts to boost algebra coursetaking found that, although more students completed the course by 9th grade as a result of the policy, failure rates increased, grades dropped slightly, test scores did not improve, and students were no more likely to attend college when they left the system.

Related: Madison School District Math Task Force and West High School Math Teachers letter to Isthmus.

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February 8, 2010

Contact the Seattle Public Schools' board and administrators, asks Where's the Math

Martha McLaren:

On February 4th, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector ruled that last year's Seattle School board decision to adopt the Discovering high school textbook series was arbitrary and capricious. Judge Spector's ruling was heard and hailed across the country by private citizens and math education advocacy groups.

This unprecedented finding shows school boards and district administration that they need to consider evidence when making decisions. The voice of the community has been upheld by law, but the Seattle School district indicated they plan to appeal, demonstrating the typical arrogant, wasteful practices which necessitated the lawsuit in the first place.

Concerned individuals in Seattle and across the country need to speak up now, and let Seattle administration know that it's time to move forward and refocus on the students, rather than defend a past mistake.

The ruling states:

"The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering Series."

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February 7, 2010

More on the Successful Seattle Lawsuit against Discovering Math

Laurie Rogers:

Decision favors plaintiffs in court challenge of Seattle math text adoption

Statement from Laurie Rogers:

Last year, Seattle Public Schools adopted the Discovering math series despite valiant opposition from parents and math professionals, despite poor assessments of the Discovering series' rigor and adherence to the new state math standards, and despite the fact that OSPI did NOT ultimately recommend the Discovering math series.
In response, three people filed a lawsuit, saying that Seattle didn't have sufficient supporting evidence for its adoption, and also that the Discovering series was associated with an INCREASE in achievement gaps.

Recently, a judge agreed with the plaintiffs and - while stopping short of telling Seattle to cease and desist in their adoption - told Seattle to revisit its adoption. The district can continue to use the Discovering series, and Seattle administrators have stated their clear intention to do so.

Nevertheless, the court decision is momentous. It sets a precedent for districts across the country. When board members can't justify their adoption decisions, the people now have legal recourse.

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Professor heads for the Hill to promote science education

Julie Luft:

Influencing practice and policy in science education is what drives ASU's Julie Luft and has led to her distinguished service to K-12 science teacher education and renowned research contributions to the field. She considers her recent call from Congress to testify about the status and future of science education to be among her most notable achievements.

Luft delivered her first-time testimony before the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee at the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Education Hearings that took place Feb. 3-4. She was joined by Craig Strang, associate director of the Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California-Berkeley.

The purpose of the hearing was to inform Congressional subcommittee members about the status and future direction of STEM education in the K-12 sector. STEM education is considered vital to maintaining the United States' leadership in the rapidly advancing world of science and technology. In her testimony, Luft emphasized the importance of inquiry in teacher education and professional development, and the need for more federal funding to support science organizations involved in research and development. She also stressed the unintended consequences of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, which has limited the amount of inquiry-based instruction in K-12 science classrooms.

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February 5, 2010

Seattle Court Reverses School Board Decision to Implement Discovery Math

Judge Julie Spector's decision [69K PDF], via Martha McLaren:

THIS MATTER having come on for hearing, and the Court having considered the pleadings, administrative record, and argument in this matter, the Court hereby enters the following Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order:

1. On May 6, 2009, in a 4-3 vote, the Seattle School District Board of Directors chose the Discovering Series as the District's high school basic math materials.

a. A recommendation from the District's Selection Committee;

b. A January, 2009 report from the Washington State Office of Public Instruction ranking High School math textbooks, listing a series by the Holt Company as number one, and the Discovering Series as number two;

c. A March 11, 2009, report from the Washington State Board of Education finding that the Discovering Series was "mathematically unsound";

d. An April 8, 2009 School Board Action Report authored by the Superintendent;

e. The May 6, 2009 recommendation of the OSPI recommending only the Holt Series, and not recommending the Discovering Series;

f. WASL scores showing an achievement gap between racial groups;

g. WASL scores from an experiment with a different inquiry-based math text at Cleveland and Garfield High Schools, showing that W ASL scores overall declined using the inquiry-based math texts, and dropped significantly for English Language Learners, including a 0% pass rate at one high school;

h. The National Math Achievement Panel (NMAP) Report;

1. Citizen comments and expert reports criticizing the effectiveness of inquiry-based math and the Discovering Series;

J. Parent reports of difficulty teaching their children using the Discovering Series and inquiry-based math;

k. Other evidence in the Administrative Record;

I. One Board member also considered the ability of her own child to learn math using the Discovering Series.

3. The court finds that the Discovering Series IS an inquiry-based math program.

4. The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there IS insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering Series.

I. The court has jurisdiction under RCW 28A.645.010 to evaluate the Board's decision for whether it is arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law;

2. The Board's selection of the Discovering Series was arbitrary;

3. The Board's selection of the Discovering Series was capricious;

4. This court has the authority to remand the Board's decision for further review;

5. Any Conclusion of Law which is more appropriately characterized as a
Finding of Fact is adopted as such, and any Finding of Fact more appropriately
characterized as a Conclusion of Law is adopted as such.


The decision of the Board to adopt the Discovering Series is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Dated this 4th day of February, 2010.

Melissa Westbrook has more.

Seattle Math Group Press Release:

Judge Julie Spector today announced her finding of "arbitrary and capricious" in the Seattle School Board's May 6 vote to adopt the Discovering Math series of high school texts despite insufficient evidence of the series' effectiveness.

Judge Spector's decision states, "The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering series."

Plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools, Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fifth grader, and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, had filed their appeal of the Board's controversial decision on June 5th, 2009. The hearing was held on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

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February 3, 2010

Want To Know More About STEM?

Melissa Westbrook:

y husband decided to send me a couple of links to various STEM articles which then led me to even more interesting links. If you are interested in this subject from a state and national level, here are some links. Happy reading!

Apparently, Ohio is waaay ahead on this stuff so many of this articles are about different projects in that state.

  • From Government Technology magazine, an article about a new STEM school in Ohio.
  • From the University of Cincinnati (a key sponsor of a lot of these schools), an article about FUSION (Furthering Urban STEM Innovation, Outreach and New Research).

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NEA's New Math Miscues

Mike Antonucci:

Last Friday, NEA heralded the release of its annual Rankings & Estimates report by sending out a press release (embargoed until today) that claimed "inflation over the past decade has outpaced teachers' salaries in every single state across the country." This didn't sound right to researcher Jay P. Greene, so he scrutinized the report and couldn't find a single statistic to back up this claim. On the contrary, NEA's numbers revealed that teachers' salaries had increased 3.4 percent over the past decade, after adjusting for inflation.

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February 1, 2010

New Critiques on the Proposed "Common Core" English & Math Standards

via a kind reader. Math 627K PDF:

This document provides grade level standards for mathematics in grades K-8, and high school standards organized under the headings of the College and Career Readiness Standards in Mathematics. Students reaching the readiness level described in that document (adjusted in response to feedback) will be prepared for non-remedial college mathematics courses and for training programs for career-level jobs. Recognizing that most students and parents have higher aspirations, and that ready for college is not the same as ready for mathematics-intensive majors and careers, we have included in this document standards going beyond the readiness level. Most students will cover these additional standards. Students who want the option of entering STEM fields will reach the readiness level by grade 10 or 11 and take precalculus or calculus before graduating from high school. Other students will go beyond readiness through statistics to college. Other pathways can be designed and available as long as they include the readiness level. The final draft of the K-12 standards will indicate which concepts and skills are needed to reach the readiness level and which go beyond. We welcome feedback from states on where that line should be drawn.

English Language Learners in Mathematics Classrooms
English language learners (ELLs) must be held to the same high standards expected of students who are already proficient in English. However, because these students are acquiring English language proficiency and content area knowledge concurrently, some students will require additional time and all will require appropriate instructional support and aligned assessments.

ELLs are a heterogeneous group with differences in ethnic background, first language, socio-economic status, quality of prior schooling, and levels of English language proficiency. Effectively educating these students requires adjusting instruction and assessment in ways that consider these factors. For example ELLs who are literate in a first language that shares cognates with English can apply first-language vocabulary knowledge when reading in English; likewise ELLs with high levels of schooling can bring to bear conceptual knowledge developed in their first language when reading in a second language. On the other hand, ELLs with limited or interrupted schooling will need to acquire background knowledge prerequisite to educational tasks at hand. As they become acculturated to US schools, ELLs who are newcomers will need sufficiently scaffolded instruction and assessments to make sense of content delivered in a second language and display this content knowledge.

English Language Arts 3.6MB PDF

Catherine Gewertz:

A draft of grade-by-grade common standards is undergoing significant revisions in response to feedback that the outline of what students should master is confusing and insufficiently user-friendly.

Writing groups convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association are at work on what they say will be a leaner, better-organized, and easier-to-understand version than the 200-plus-page set that has been circulating among governors, scholars, education groups, teams of state education officials, and others for review in recent weeks. The first public draft of the standards, which was originally intended for a December release but was postponed until January, is now expected by mid-February.

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A "Value Added" Report for the Madison School District

Kurt Kiefer:

Attached are the most recent results from our MMSD value added analysis project, and effort in which we are collaborating with the Wisconsin center for Educational Research Value Added Research Center (WCERVARC). These data include the two-year models for both the 2006-2008 and 2005-2007 school year spans.

This allows us in a single report to view value added performance for consecutive intervals of time and thereby begin to identify trends. Obviously, it is a trend pattern that will provide the greatest insights into best practices in our schools.

As it relates to results, there do seem to be some patterns emerging among elementary schools especially in regard to mathematics. As for middle schools, the variation across schools is once again - as it was last year with the first set of value added results - remarkably narrow, i.e., schools perform very similar to each other, statistically speaking.
Also included in this report are attachments that show the type of information used with our school principals and staff in their professional development sessions focused on how to interpret and use the data meaningfully. The feedback from the sessions has been very positive.

Much more on the Madison School District's Value Added Assessment program here. The "value added assessment" data is based on Wisconsin's oft-criticized WKCE.

Table E1 presents value added at the school level for 28 elementary schools in Madison Metropolitan School District. Values added are presented for two overlapping time periods; the period between the November 2005 to November 2007 WKCE administrations, and the more recent period between the November 2006 and November 2008 WKCE. This presents value added as a two-year moving average to increase precision and avoid overinterpretation of trends. Value added is measured in reading and math.

VA is equal to the school's value added. It is equal to the number ofextra points students at a school scored on the WKCE relative to observationally similar students across the district A school with a zero value added is an average school in terms of value added. Students at a school with a value added of 3 scored 3 points higher on the WKCE on average than observationally similar students at other schools.

Std. Err. is the standard error ofthe school's value added. Because schools have only a finite number of students, value added (and any other school-level statistic) is measured with some error. Although it is impossible to ascertain the sign of measurement error, we can measure its likely magnitude by using its standard error. This makes it possible to create a plausible range for a school's true value added. In particular, a school's measured value added plus or minus 1.96 standard errors provides a 95 percent confidence interval for a school's true value added.

N is the number of students used to measure value added. It covers students whose WKCE scores can be matched from one year to the next.

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Madison School District Infinite Campus Usage Report

Kurt Kiefer & Lisa Wachtel [1.4MB PDF]:

This report summarizes data on the use of Infinite Campus teacher tools and the Parent and Student Portal. Data come from a survey conducted among all teachers responsible for students within the Infinite Campus system and an analysis of the Infinite Campus data base. Below are highlights from the report.
  • About half of all middle and high school teachers responsible for providing grades to students are using the grade book tool.
  • Grade book use has declined over the past year at the middle school level due to the introduction of standards- based grading. In addition to the change in grading approach, the grade book tool in Infinite Campus does not handle standards-based grading as efficiently as traditional grading.
  • Lesson Planner and Grade book use is most common among World Languages, Physical Education, and Science teachers and less common among fine arts and language arts/reading teachers.
  • Grade book and other tool use is most common among teachers with less than three years of teaching experience.
  • Seventy percent of teachers responding to the survey within these years of experience category report using the tools compared with about half of all other experience categories.
  • Most of the other teacher tools within Infinite Campus, e.g., Messenger, Newsletters, reports, etc., are not being used due to a lack o!familiarity with them.
  • Many teachers expressed interest in learning about how they can use other digital tools such as the Moodie leaming management system, blogs, wikis, and Drupal web pages.
  • About one third of parents with high school stUdents use the Infinite Campus Parent Portal. Slightly less than 30 percent of parents of middle school students use the Portal. Having just been introduced to elementary schools this fall, slightly more that ten percent of parents of students at this level use the Portal.
  • Parents of white students are more likely to use the Portal than are parents of students within other racial/ethnic subgroups.
  • About half of all high school students have used the Portal at one time this school year. About one in five middle school students have used the Portal this year.
  • Variation in student portal use is wide across the middle and high schools.
Follow up is planned during January 2010 with staff on how we can address some of the issues related to enhancing the use olthese tools among staff, parents, and stUdents. This report is scheduled to be provided to the Board of Education in February 2010.
Much more on Infinite Campus and the Madison School District here.

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January 31, 2010

Have things (Math Education) really changed that much? A letter to a friend.

Martha McClaren:

You ask whether things have changed -- since math wasn't being taught well 40+ years ago either. You're absolutely right on that, but I believe it's only gotten worse over the years, as more and more math phobic people have gone into the field of education. These people never understood math well, so their teaching had to be based on rote following of procedures, etc. Then came "new math", which was an effort to reinvent math and make it more accessible. That bombed, and the efforts to reinvent continued.

What happened is that eventually those bright, math-phobic folks took over the education establishment. They reinvented math to be gentler, kinder, and more fun. Some of the hallmarks are: Small group problem solving, with students figuring our their own solutions to challenging problems. Visiting many topics for only a few weeks each year and moving on, regardless of whether any real mastery was attained. The thinking was/is that students will revisit the topics again in successive years, and will painlessly absorb the concepts. This turns out to be an extremely inefficient way to teach math, so, in order to have enough time to do all these hands-on projects in groups, the explanation of the underlying structure of math and and practice with standard algorithms have all been chucked.

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What's your experience with the new (Discovery) math textbooks?

Last year Seattle Public Schools selected new, "inquiry-based" math textbooks. Now there's a lawsuit against the district over the Discovering Mathematics series of textbooks.

Do you have a child in school who is using the new textbooks? What is your experience with inquiry-based math education? KUOW's Ross Reynolds is planning a show on Wednesday, February 3 in the 12 o'clock hour. We'd like to hear from you by Wednesday morning. Share your experience with KUOW by filling out the form below, or call 206.221.3663.

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January 30, 2010

Discussing Rigor at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School

Michael Rice:

I was reading the comments in an earlier post about the new assignment plan and there were many comments about the rigor or lack there of at Rainier Beach High School. I would like to dispel the myth that Rainier Beach does not offer rigor to the high achieving student. If you have a high achieving 8th grader and are in the RBHS attendance area, here is just a sample of what you can expect:

In math as a Freshman, you will start in at least Honors Geometry with Ms. Lessig who is our best math teacher. Once you get through that, you will take Honors Advanced Algebra with me, then Pre Calculus with Mr. Bird (a math major in college) and then as a Senior, you take AP Calculus with Ms. Day, a highly experienced and skilled teacher. As a bonus, in either your Junior or Senior year, you get to take AP Statistics with me. All of these classes are demanding and well taught by teachers who know what they are doing and are passionate about teaching math.

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January 29, 2010

Response to Danny Westneat 1/27 Math column in Seattle Times

Martha McLaren:

I am one of the three plaintiffs in the math textbook appeal. I am also the white grandmother of an SPS fifth grader, and a retired SPS math teacher.

Mr. Westneat grants that the textbooks we are opposing may be "lousy," but he faults us for citing their disproportionate effect on ethnic, racial, and other minorities. He states that we can't prove this claim. I disagree, and West Seattle Dan has posted voluminous statistics in response to the column. They support our claim that inquiry-based texts, which have now accrued a sizable track record, are generally associated with declining achievement among most students and with a widening achievement gap between middle class whites and minorities.

We've brought race and ethnicity (as well as economic status) into this appeal because there is ample evidence that it is a factor. True, this is not the 80's, and true, in my 10 years of experience teaching in Seattle Schools, I found no evidence that people of color are less capable than whites of being outstanding learners. However, in my 30+ years as a parent and grandparent of SPS students and my years as a teacher, I've developed deep, broad, awareness of the ways that centuries of societally mandated racism play out in our classrooms, even in this era of Barack Obama's presidency.

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January 28, 2010

On Seattle's "Discovery Math" Lawsuit: "Textbook argument divides us"

Danny Westneat:

Can an algebra textbook be racist?

That's what was argued Tuesday in a Seattle courtroom. Not overtly racist in that a book of equations and problem sets contains hatred or intolerance of others. But that its existence -- its adoption for use in Seattle classrooms -- is keeping some folks down.

"We're on untested ground here," admitted Keith Scully.

He's the attorney who advanced this theory in a lawsuit challenging Seattle Public Schools' choice of the Discovering series of math textbooks last year.

The appeal was brought by a handful of Seattle residents, including UW atmospheric-sciences professor Cliff Mass. It says Seattle's new math books -- and a "fuzzy" curriculum they represent -- are harmful enough to racial and other minorities that they violate the state constitution's guarantee of an equal education.

It also says the School Board's choice of the books was arbitrary.

Mostly, Mass just says the new textbooks stink. For everyone. But he believes they will widen the achievement gap between whites and some minority groups, specifically blacks and students with limited English skills.

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January 27, 2010

Lawsuit Challenging the Seattle School District's use of "Discovering Mathematics" Goes to Trial

Martha McLaren, DaZanne Porter, and Cliff Mass:

Today Cliff Mass and I, (DaZanne Porter had to be at a training in Yakima) accompanied by Dan Dempsey and Jim W, had our hearing in Judge Julie Spector's King County Superior Courtroom; the event was everything we hoped for, and more. Judge Spector asked excellent questions and said that she hopes to announce a decision by Friday, February 12th.

The hearing started on time at 8:30 AM with several members of the Press Corps present, including KIRO TV, KPLU radio, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, and at least 3 others. I know the number because, at the end, Cliff, our attorney, Keith Scully, and I were interviewed; there were five microphones and three cameras pointed towards us at one point.

The hearing was brief; we were done by 9:15. Keith began by presenting our case very clearly and eloquently. Our two main lines of reasoning are, 1) that the vote to adopt Discovering was arbitrary and capricious because of the board's failure to take notice of a plethora of testimony, data, and other information which raised red flags about the efficacy of the Discovering series, and 2) the vote violated the equal education rights of the minority groups who have been shown, through WASL scores, to be disadvantaged by inquiry based instruction.

Realistically, both of these arguments are difficult to prove: "arbitrary and capricious" is historically a very, very difficult proof, and while Keith's civil rights argument was quite compelling, there is no legal precedent for applying the law to this situation.

The School District's attorney, Shannon McMinimee, did her best, saying that the board followed correct procedure, the content of the books is not relevant to the appeal, the books do not represent inquiry-based learning but a "balanced" approach, textbooks are merely tools, etc., etc. She even denigrated the WASL - a new angle in this case. In rebuttal, Keith was terrific, we all agreed. He quoted the introduction of the three texts, which made it crystal clear that these books are about "exploration." I'm blanking on other details of his rebuttal, but it was crisp and effective. Keith was extremely effective, IMHO. Hopefully, Dan, James, and Cliff can recall more details of the rebuttal.

Associated Press:
A lawsuit challenging the Seattle School District's math curriculum went to trial Monday in King County Superior Court.

A group of parents and teachers say the "Discovering Math" series adopted last year does a poor job, especially with minority students who are seeing an achievement gap widen.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle School District, Teresa Wippel, says it has no comment on pending litigation.

KOMO-TV reports the district has already spent $1.2 million on Discovering Math books and teacher training.

Cliff Mass:
On Tuesday, January 26th, at 8:30 AM, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector will consider an appeal by a group of Seattle residents (including yours truly) regarding the selection by Seattle Public Schools of the Discovering Math series in their high schools. Although this issue is coming to a head in Seattle it influences all of you in profound ways.

In this appeal we provide clear evidence that the Discovery Math approach worsens the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged students and their peers. We show that the Board and District failed to consider key evidence and voluminous testimony, and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by choosing a teaching method that was demonstrated to produce a stagnant or increasing achievement gap. We request that the Seattle Schools rescind their decision and re-open the textbook consideration for high school.

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January 24, 2010

A Few Comments on Monday's State of the Madison School District Presentation

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad will present the "State of the Madison School District 2010" tomorrow night @ 5:30p.m. CST.

The timing and content are interesting, from my perspective because:

  • The nearby Verona School District just approved a Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote. (Watch the discussion here). Madison lags in such expanded "adult to student" learning opportunities. Madison seems to be expanding "adult to adult" spending on "coaches" and "professional development". I'd rather see an emphasis on hiring great teachers and eliminating the administrative overhead associated with growing "adult to adult" expenditures.
  • I read with interest Alec Russell's recent lunch with FW de Klerk. de Klerk opened the door to South Africa's governance revolution by freeing Nelson Mandela in 1990:
    History is moving rather fast in South Africa. In June the country hosts football's World Cup, as if in ultimate endorsement of its post-apartheid progress. Yet on February 2 1990, when the recently inaugurated state President de Klerk stood up to deliver the annual opening address to the white-dominated parliament, such a prospect was unthinkable. The townships were in ferment; many apartheid laws were still on the books; and expectations of the balding, supposedly cautious Afrikaner were low.

    How wrong conventional wisdom was. De Klerk's address drew a line under 350 years of white rule in Africa, a narrative that began in the 17th century with the arrival of the first settlers in the Cape. Yet only a handful of senior party members knew of his intentions.

    I sense that the Madison School Board and the Community are ready for new, substantive adult to student initiatives, while eliminating those that simply consume cash in the District's $418,415,780 2009-2010 budget ($17,222 per student).
  • The "State of the District" document [566K PDF] includes only the "instructional" portion of the District's budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 "Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization's mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple "citizen's budget" financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes' very useful 2005 quote:
    This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker - and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member - believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.
    In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.
  • A new financial reality. I don't see significant new funds for K-12 given the exploding federal deficit, state spending and debt issues and Madison's property tax climate. Ideally, the District will operate like many organizations, families and individuals and try to most effectively use the resources it has. The recent Reading Recovery report is informative.
I think Dan Nerad sits on a wonderful opportunity. The community is incredibly supportive of our schools, spending far more per student than most school Districts (quite a bit more than his former Green Bay home) and providing a large base of volunteers. Madison enjoys access to an academic powerhouse: the University of Wisconsin and proximity to MATC and Edgewood College. Yet, District has long been quite insular (see Janet Mertz's never ending efforts to address this issue), taking a "we know best approach" to many topics via close ties to the UW-Madison School of Education and its own curriculum creation business, the Department of Teaching and Learning.

In summary, I'm hoping for a "de Klerk" moment Monday evening. What are the odds?

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January 20, 2010

Will China Achieve Science Supremacy?

Room for Debate:

A recent Times article described how China is stepping up efforts to lure home the top Chinese scholars who live and work abroad. The nation is already second only to the United States in the volume of scientific papers published, and it has, as Thomas Friedman pointed out, more students in technical colleges and universities than any other country.

But China’s drive to succeed in the sciences is also subjecting its research establishment to intense pressure and sharper scrutiny. And as the standoff last week between Google and China demonstrated, the government controls the give and take of information.

How likely is it that China will become the world’s leader in science and technology, and what are the impediments to creating a research climate that would allow scientists to thrive?

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January 11, 2010

Articles and Books on Mathematics Education

The winter 2009-2010 issue of "American Educator", has a number of interesting articles. Here are two of interest for people interested in mathematics education.

Daniel Willingham "Is It True That Some People Just Can't Do Math"

Patsy Wang-Iverson, Perla Myers, and Edmund Lim W.K. "Beyond Singapore's Mathematics Textbooks - Focused and Flexible Supports for Teaching and

The first has a number of useful references as well as comments. Here is one. There have been many papers written in Madison on student's lack of understanding of the equal sign. I once asked Liping Ma if this was a problem in China. She said that as far as she knew it was not. There is confirmation of this in one of the references.

Four questions asked of sixth grade students in the U.S. and China.

The paper which includes this is "Sources of Differences in Children's Understanding of Mathematical Equality: Comparative Analysis of Teacher Guides and Student Texts in China and the United States", by Xiaobao Li, Meixia Ding, Mary Margaret Capraro, Robert M. Capraro. It appeared in Cognition and Instruction, vol. 26, no. 2, pages 195-217, in 2008.

The second article in American Educator has comments on curriculum, teacher induction and education and support while teaching. There is also a one page supplemental article on teacher professional development and evaluation by Susan Sclafani and Edmund Lim W.K.

In addition there have been two very interesting books on school mathematics education written by mathematicians. The first is "Arithmetic for Parents: A Book for Grownups about Children's Mathematics" by Ron Aharoni, Sumizdat, 2007. An article by Aharoni about his experience teaching mathematics in an elementary school in Israel can be read here. This is a good introduction to his book, and more useful details are in the

The second is "And All the Children Are Above Average: A Review of The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential" by John Mighton, a Canadian mathematician and playwright. The paperback version of this book was published by Vintage Canada. You can read about Mighton here. and there is also information about his math program JUMP here. This program was developed after Mighton learned a number of things while tutoring students who had significant problems in learning elementary mathematics. A review of this book by David Kirshner appeared in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education in the January, 2010 issue.

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January 8, 2010

Universities Pledge to Train Thousands More Math and Science Teachers by 2015

Libby Nelson:

President Obama announced on Wednesday a partnership between federal agencies and public universities to train thousands more mathematics and science teachers each year, part of the administration's effort to make American students more competitive globally in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Leaders of 121 public universities have pledged to increase the total number of science and math teachers they prepare every year to 10,000 by 2015, up from the 7,500 teachers who graduate annually now.

Forty-one institutions, including California's two university systems and the University of Maryland system, said they would double the number of science and math teachers they trained each year by 2015.

The partnership is part of the Obama administration's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, a program announced in November that seeks to join government agencies, businesses, and universities in efforts to improve math and science education.

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January 5, 2010

How Good Are University of Washington Students in Math?

Cliff Mass:

As many of you know, I have a strong interest in K-12 math education, motivated by the declining math skills of entering UW freshmen and the poor math educations given to my own children. Last quarter I taught Atmospheric Sciences 101, a large lecture class with a mix of students, and gave them a math diagnostic test as I have done in the past.

The results were stunning, in a very depressing way. This was an easy test, including elementary and middle school math problems. And these are students attending a science class at the State's flagship university--these should be the creme of the crop of our high school graduates with high GPAs. And yet most of them can't do essential basic math--operations needed for even the most essential problem solving.

A copy of the graded exam is below (click to enlarge) and a link to a pdf version is at:

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January 4, 2010

Elmbrook gets UW-Waukesha classes: "Professors Save Students the Trip"

Amy Hetzner, via a kind reader's email:

By the time the first bell rings at Brookfield Central High School, most of the students in Room 22 are immersed in college-level vector equations, reviewing for their final exam on the Friday before Christmas.

Senior Lea Gulotta, however, looks on the bright side of waking early every morning for the past semester so she can take a Calculus 3 class taught at the school by a college professor.

"We get to sleep in for a month," she said, noting that the regular high school semester won't end until mid-January.

There's another positive to Brookfield Central's agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha continuing education department, which brought the advanced mathematics class to the high school this year as part of the state's youth options program. Under youth options, school districts pick up the costs of courses at Wisconsin colleges if they don't have similar offerings available to students.

Instead of seeing students spend extra time commuting and attending class on a college campus, the arrangement placed the professor in the high school to teach 11 students who had completed advanced-placement calculus as juniors. Two of the students in the class come from the Elmbrook School District's other high school, Brookfield East.

Elmbrook pays UW-Waukesha the same tuition that it would pay if its students chose to attend the college campus on their own, she said.

Related: Janet Mertz's tireless crusade on credit for non-Madison School District classes.

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The science of science education

Irving Epstein:

More minority students need to be lured into the sciences. One program has been a resounding success.

At most universities, freshman chemistry, a class I've taught for nearly 40 years, is the first course students take on the road to a career in the health professions or the biological or physical sciences. It's a tough course, and for many students it's the obstacle that keeps them from majoring in science. This is particularly true for minority students.

In 2005, more than two-thirds of the American scientific workforce was composed of white males. But by 2050, white males will make up less than one-fourth of the population. If the pipeline fails to produce qualified nonwhite scientists, we will, in effect, be competing against the rest of the world with one hand tied behind our backs.

We've been able to survive for the last several decades in large measure because of the "brain drain" -- the fact that the most able students from other countries, particularly China and India, have come here to study science at our best universities and, in many cases, have stayed to become key players in our scientific endeavors.

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December 29, 2009

Silicon Valley companies' help needed to shore up math education

Muhammed Chaudhry:

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Savage was failing math. Like many of her classmates in middle school, she hated the subject. Stuck in a large seventh-grade class with a teacher who had little time to offer individual help, Kayla was lost among rational numbers and polynomials.

Her frustration led to a phobia of math, an all-too-common affliction that often starts in middle school and threatens to derail students' future math studies in high school and chances for college.

Kayla is like thousands of students across America who struggle with math. The struggle in California is borne out by this grim U.S. Education Department statistic: Students in California rank 40th in eighth-grade math, a critical year in math learning that sets the path for math success in high school and beyond.

In Santa Clara County, only about 39 percent of eighth-graders meet the California standard for Algebra I proficiency. One study showed that less than one-third of eighth-graders have the skills or interest to pursue a math or science career. Yet these careers are the drivers of our future.

Silicon Valley Education Foundation.

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Times Guest Column on STEM Education

Charlie Mas:

There was a guest column in the Seattle Times by Bonnie Dunbar, the president and CEO of The Museum of Flight and a former astronaut, encouraging the community to support STEM education efforts.

The column itself was the usual pointless pablum that we typically see in these guest columns. Lots of goals with no action plan. The interesting bit, as usual, comes in the reader comments in which members of the community writes that we DON'T need more engineers because there are lots of them standing in unemployment lines and that engineering jobs are being outsourced to India and China or to people from India and China who come to the U.S. on guest worker visas.

This article is also written completely without reference to the ineffective math education methods adopted over the past ten years.

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December 24, 2009

New Programs Aim to Lure Young Into Digital Jobs

Steve Lohr:

Growing up in the '70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar.

"I was constantly being called a geek or a nerd," he recalled, chuckling.

Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.

Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records.

Hybrid careers like Dr. Halamka's that combine computing with other fields will increasingly be the new American jobs of the future, labor experts say. In other words, the nation's economy is going to need more cool nerds. But not enough young people are embracing computing -- often because they are leery of being branded nerds.

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December 16, 2009

Will Cleveland High School Become Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's Crown Jewel or Albatross?

Nina Shapiro:

As Seattle Public Schools released new details about its latest transformation plan for perpetually-troubled Cleveland High School over the past week, there's been a collective eye roll among some teachers there.
"I've been here for 15 years and every other year we do this," says math teacher David Fisher, referring to a long string of ballyhooed overhauls that the Beacon Hill school has embarked on at the behest of the district.

One thing is different: The district is promising to pour money into this reinvention of Cleveland as the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It proposes to spend more than $4 million over the first three years, according to a report at last Wednesday's school board meeting by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. That's a lot of money for a school that is already up and running. (See the breakdown of spending on page 8 of this pdf.)

Melissa Westbrook has more.

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December 15, 2009

Salman Khan, math master of the Internet

James Temple:

During the years Salman Khan spent scrutinizing financials for hedge funds, he rationalized the profit-obsessed work by telling himself he would one day quit and use his market winnings to open a free school.

It began with long-distance tutoring in late 2004. He agreed to help his niece Nadia, then a seventh-grader struggling with unit conversion, by providing math lessons over Yahoo's interactive notepad, Doodle, and the phone.

Nephews and family friends soon followed. But scheduling conflicts and repeated lectures prompted him to post instructional videos on YouTube that his proliferating pupils could watch when they had the time.

They did - and before long, so did thousands of others. Today, the Mountain View resident's 800-plus videos are viewed about 35,000 times a day, forming a virtual classroom that dwarfs any brick and mortar school he might have imagined. By using the reach of the Internet, he's helped bring education to the information-hungry around the world who can't afford private tutors or Kaplan prep courses.

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December 10, 2009

Tracking/Grouping Students: Detracked Schools have fewer advanced math students than "tracked schools"

Tom Loveless:

What are the implications of "tracking," or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement? Many schools have moved away from this practice and reduced the number of subject-area courses offered in a given grade. In this new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in Massachusetts middle schools, with particular focus on changes that have occurred over time and their implications for high-achieving students. Among the report's key findings: detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. The report also finds that detracking is more popular in schools serving disadvantaged populations.
Valerie Strauss:
A new report out today makes the case that students do better in school when they are separated into groups based on their achievement.

Loveless found that de-tracked schools have fewer advanced students in math than do tracked schools--and that de-tracking is more popular in schools that serve disadvantaged students.

Chester Finn, Jr. and Amber Winkler [1.3MB complete report pdf]:
By 2011, if the states stick to their policy guns, all eighth graders in California and Minnesota will be required to take algebra. Other states are all but certain to follow. Assuming these courses hold water, some youngsters will dive in majestically and then ascend gracefully to the surface, breathing easily. Others, however, will smack their bellies, sink to the bottom and/or come up gasping. Clearly, the architects of this policy have the best of intentions. In recent years, the conventional wisdom of American K-12 education has declared algebra to be a "gatekeeper" to future educational and career success. One can scarcely fault policy makers for insisting that every youngster pass through that gate, lest too many find their futures constrained. It's also well known that placing students in remedial classes rarely ends up doing them a favor, especially in light of evi- dence that low-performing students may learn more in heterogeneous classrooms.

Yet common sense must ask whether all eighth graders are truly prepared to succeed in algebra class. That precise question was posed in a recent study by Brookings scholar Tom Loveless (The 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education), who is also the author of the present study. He found that over a quarter of low-performing math students--those scoring in the bottom 10 percent on NAEP--were enrolled in advanced math courses in 2005. Since these "misplaced" students are ill-pre- pared for the curricular challenges that lie ahead, Loveless warned, pushing an "algebra for all" policy on them could further endanger their already-precarious chances of success.

When American education produced this situation by abolishing low-level tracks and courses, did people really believe that such seemingly simple--and well-meanin --changes in policy and school organization would magically transform struggling learners into middling or high-achieving ones? And were they oblivious to the effects that such alterations might have on youngsters who were al- ready high-performing?

Related: English 10.

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Latest cause of foreclosures: Kids didn't learn it in school

Jo Egelhoff:

Nanny State Update: I don't get this. Why would instructions be issued to teach kids - to be required to teach kids - about taking out a mortgage and the risks of a home loan?.

Why would teachers need to be told to teach kids about money management? How much more of this stuff are these poor teachers going to be mandated to teach?

The state's Model Academic Standards for Personal Financial Literacy are extensive and detailed. A quick glance at the Table of Contents tells you DPI has it covered. Peek inside (Credit and Debt management, pp. 8 - 10) and you'll see tons of objectives and sub-objectives for 4th graders, 8th graders and 12th graders. Check it out. Yes, I think we're covered!

Basic knowledge of Math should be sufficient to help all of us understand loans that make sense, vs those that don't. I continue to be amazed at the financial pitches that apparently work: $89/month for a new Honda Civic (fine print: big down payment and a balloon payment after x years).

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December 8, 2009

Math Gains Stall in Big Cities

John Hechinger:

Most urban school districts failed to make significant progress in math achievement in the past two years, and had scores below the national average, according to a federal study.

The results, released Tuesday by the Department of Education, offer more ammunition to critics who question claims of academic progress in districts such as New York City. But federal and schools officials said that many of these districts had shown large gains since 2003, and didn't lose ground despite budget constraints.

Four of the 11 school districts the study has tracked since 2003 -- including Washington, D.C., which is in the throes of a turnaround effort -- bucked the trend and showed solid gains between 2007 and 2009.

Urban districts are central to federal efforts to improve U.S. education, especially among poor and minority students, who are disproportionately taught in underperforming schools. Congress is likely to look at the fresh data when it considers, as soon as next year, reauthorizing George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, which requires that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The law relies on state tests, but critics -- liberals and conservatives -- worry that states may be making the tests too easy.

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2009 NAEP Math Results

The Nation's Report Card:

Scores for most districts higher than in 2003, but few make gains since 2007

Representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade public school students from 18 urban districts participated in the 2009 assessment. Eleven of the districts also participated in the 2007 assessment, and 10 participated in 2003. Between 1,800 and 4,300 fourth- and eighth-graders were assessed in each district.

  • In comparison to 2007, average mathematics scores for students in large cities increased in 2009 at both grades 4 and 8; however, only two participating districts at each grade showed gains.
  • Scores were higher in 2009 for Boston and the District of Columbia at grade 4, and for Austin and San Diego at grade 8.
  • No districts showed a decline in scores at either grade.
  • In comparison to 2003, scores for students in large cities were higher in 2009 at both grades 4 and 8.
  • Increases in scores were also seen across most urban districts that participated in both years, except in Charlotte at grade 4 and in Cleveland at grades 4 and 8, where there were no significant changes.
Complete 13MB pdf report can be found here.

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Notes and Commentary on a Seattle STEM High School

Charlie Mas:

I attended the Cleveland STEM Community Meeting on December 4 with my wife and 8th grade daughter.

First, the important parts.

My daughter is excited about the program. To her it looks like a good mix of the academic challenge of Garfield with the more personalized instruction (and project-based learning) of NOVA. She got most excited when she saw a list of the possible classes in the Global Health Academy.

My wife and I are much more confident about the probability that the program will actually be there and that it will be something like what has been advertised.

There was a pretty good crowd of people there - I'd say about forty to fifty (not counting staff).

The folks from Cleveland who were there are excited about the program and have a very clear picture of the idea - the project-based learning, the integration of technology, the alignment between classes, the extended school day and accelerated schedule, etc.

The STEM program looks real and, to us, it looks good. They still have some things to work out. The schedule is inspired, but needs some tinkering. They haven't figured out how to get the student:computer ratio to the promised 1:1. They are still missing a lot of the curricular elements - they haven't found the puzzle pieces but they know what they have to look like.

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December 3, 2009

Step-by-Step Math


Have you ever given up working on a math problem because you couldn't figure out the next step? Wolfram|Alpha can guide you step by step through the process of solving many mathematical problems, from solving a simple quadratic equation to taking the integral of a complex function.

When trying to find the roots of 3x2+x-7=4x, Wolfram|Alpha can break down the steps for you if you click the "Show steps" button in the Result pod.

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December 2, 2009

1 Moment

1 MomΣnt from Jackson Eagan on Vimeo.

This is a music video parody of Eminem's award-winning song "Lose Yourself." Instead of a depressed rapper, we have a troubled math student who tries to find his way into the math scene by engaging in tough algebra tests, breakdance battles, and nail-biting underground math competitions.

This project was started by East High's math department; it was written by Daniel Torres. After a long recording session, four shoots, and countless hours editing, this is the end result.

I understand that the genesis of it is that last year Alan Harris told the different departments at East that they should have a theme song or something. This started out as the math department's theme song (written by a teacher, based on an Eminem song) and then Jackson Eagan, an East senior, decided to produce a video for it, starring another East math teacher.

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November 30, 2009

Pilot program adds finance to school curriculum

Jonathan Tamari:

With New Jersey high schools already facing a new mandate to teach students financial literacy, at least six school districts will be able to participate in a pilot program that establishes a class on the topic for seniors.
The state Department of Education in June added economics and financial literacy instruction to the state's high school graduation requirements.

At the same time, a bill working its way through the Legislature aimed to create a financial literacy pilot program, establishing a course on the subject in six districts. Those schools would receive advice and support from the state in establishing those classes.

Gov. Corzine signed the pilot-program bill on Nov. 20. The program, which will set up courses for high school seniors, will cover topics such as budgeting, savings and investment, and credit-card debt.

"So many young New Jerseyans find out all too late that living in a credit-card culture carries a price," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the law's sponsors.

I would hope that essential financial calculations would be covered in Math class.

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November 24, 2009

White House Plans Campaign to Promote Science and Math Education

Kenneth Chang:

To improve science and mathematics education for American children, the White House is recruiting Elmo and Big Bird, video game programmers and thousands of scientists.

President Obama will announce a campaign Monday to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, officials say.

The campaign, called Educate to Innovate, will focus mainly on activities outside the classroom. For example, Discovery Communications has promised to use two hours of the afternoon schedule on its Science Channel cable network for commercial-free programming geared toward middle school students.

Science and engineering societies are promising to provide volunteers to work with students in the classroom, culminating in a National Lab Day in May.

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November 23, 2009

2009 SAT Male / Female Ratio Test Scores

Mark Perry:

The chart above shows the male-female test score ratio for the 2009 SAT math test (data here). For example, for perfect scores of 800, males (6,928) outnumbered females (3,124) by a ratio of 2.22 to 1. In other words, 69% of test-takers who got perfect math scores were males vs. 31% of perfect scores by females. Or we could also say that there 222 high school boys who got perfect SAT math scores for every 100 high school girls.

The graph further shows that boys outperformed girls at all 23 math test scores between 580-800 (10 point intervals, with male-female ratios of 1.0 or above), and then for math test scores between 200 points and 570, girls outnumbered boys (male-female ratio below 1.0).

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November 20, 2009

Computer pioneer Sir Maurice Wilkes: vision and vacuum tubes

Jack Schofield:

Sir Maurice Wilkes, 96, one of the pioneers of British computing, strolls through the history the he helped create

Walk round the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and sooner or later you'll hear a cry of recognition and someone will say: "I remember using one of those." It probably doesn't happen often to The Millionaire, a mechanical calculator that went into production in 1893, but Sir Maurice Wilkes spotted it, adding: "We used to have one in the lab. I hope it's still there."

In this case, "the lab" was what became the Cambridge University Computer Lab, which Wilkes headed from 1945 until 1980. It was where he built Edsac, one of the world's first electronic computers, using sound beams traversing baths of mercury for the memory units. Edsac (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) first ran in May 1949, so this year a dinner was held to celebrate its 60th birthday. And, of course, to celebrate Wilkes himself, who is a bright, sharp 96 years of age, and has seen most of the history of computing at first hand.

How sharp? On seeing the museum's air traffic control display, which fascinates many visitors, he immediately asks: "Where's the radar?" Ah, well, there isn't one. The displays are running real radar sequences but they're recorded. Wilkes, the consummate hardware guy, doesn't just see the screen, he looks to see how the whole system fits together.

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November 17, 2009

Learning Math From the Rubik's Cube

Jennifer Lee:

Can a Rubik's Cube boost student confidence?

About a dozen New York City schools have introduced a child-friendly Rubik's Cube-based math curriculum devised for students as young as 8. In addition, New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation is planning to introduce Rubik's Cube solving at its 32 after-school program sites citywide within the next few weeks.

These actions are happening under a program conceived around two years ago by the company that owns the license to the Rubik's Cube, Seven Towns, which is based in London. In an attempt to make the cube part of an educational curriculum, the company took the relatively cryptic problem-solving guides and made them more student-friendly by adding colorful illustrations and simplifying the instructions.

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November 6, 2009

How Do Students at Wright Compare to Their Peers at Other MMSD Middle Schools?

Via Jeff Henriques:

Examining the performance of only economically disadvantaged students in 8th grade, after two years and a quarter at Wright Middle School, compared with other MMSD middle schools.
Click for a larger view:

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November 1, 2009

Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues Schools

Nancy Solomon via a kind reader's email:

American schools have struggled for decades to close what's called the 'minority achievement gap' -- the lower average test scores, grades and college attendance rates among black and Latino students.

Typically, schools place children who are falling behind in remedial classes, to help them catch up. But some schools are finding that grouping students by ability, also known as tracking or leveling, causes more problems than it solves.

Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., is a well-funded school that is roughly 60 percent black and 40 percent white. The kids mix easily and are friendly with one another. But when the bell rings, students go their separate ways.

Teacher Noel Cooperberg's repeat algebra class last year consisted of all minority kids who had flunked the previous year. There were only about a dozen students because the school keeps lower-level classes small to try to boost success. But a group of girls sitting in the middle never so much as picked up a pencil, and they often disrupted the class. It was a different scene from Cooperberg's honors-level pre-calculus class, which had three times as many students -- most of them white.

These two classes are pretty typical for the school. Lower-level classes -- called levels two and three -- are overwhelmingly black, while higher-level four and five are mostly white. Students are assigned to these levels by a combination of grades, test scores and teacher recommendations.

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Madison School District Administration Response to the Math Task Force

The local school district's increasing use of reform math programs lead to the creation of a "Math Task Force". The District Administration's response is outlined in this 2.6MB PDF document:

The purpose of this report is to describe the recomrnendations in response to the Madison Metropolitan School District Mathematics Task Force Report: Review of Mathematics Curriculum and Related Issues, submitted to the Board of Education June, 2008.

Administrative Recommendations Summary The materials included in this packet update and replace those distributed to the Board of Education in April 2009. Included in the materials is a proposed budget.

Middle School Mathematics Specialists (see Recommendations 1-5)

The Superintendent and UW-Madison Deans of Letters and Sciences and the School of Education commissioned a representative and collaborative group to design a professional development plan for this initiative. The group was convened in June and has since met four times during the summer to research and design a professional development plan to support middle school mathematics teachers.

The Middle School Math Partnership committee has tentatively planned five courses for the professional development proposal. Those courses are Number and Generalization, Rational Number and Proportional Reasoning, Geometry, Measurement and Trigonometry, and Algebra and Functions. The courses would be spread out over two years and be co-facilitated by UW and MMSD staff.

Research, data gathering and design will continue through 2009-2010 with the initial cohort of middle school teachers beginning in summer 2010. Upon completion of an initial draft, the plan will be presented to district teachers for further input and refinement.

In collaboration with the above group, a National Science Foundation Targeted Partnership proposal, Professional Learning Partnership K-20 (PLP K-20), was submitted on August 20, 2009. A UW-Madison and MMSD team of nearly 30 members worked during the summer to craft a proposal focused on systemic and sustainable mathematics professional development. The vision described in the proposal creates "a lasting interface to coordinate material, human, social, and cyber resources" among the UW-Madison and District. The principal investigator of the NSF proposal is Eric Wilcots. Co-Pl's include Provost Deluca, Superintendent Nerad, Dean Sandefur and Dean Underwood.

Background notes and links: Again, it will be interesting to see what, if any substantive changes occur in the local math programs.

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October 31, 2009

Madison School District Strategic Plan: Nirvana by 2014/2015?

The Madison School Board recently passed the District's Strategic Plan. Superintendent Dan Nerad has now published a draft document outlining performance measures for the plan (this is positive). The 600K PDF document is well worth reading. Mr. Nerad's proposed performance measures rely on the oft criticized - for its lack of rigor - state exam, the WKCE. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently stated that "Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum".

A few highlights from the 600K PDF document:


Discussing these data is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, use of the WKCE does not instill much confidence, from my perspective.

via "Some States Drop Testing Bar" by John Hechinger.

Happy Halloween!

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October 30, 2009

Our Local Schools Should Be Showcases Not Basket Cases - GOOG Ups Its Schools Focus

Tom Foremski:

The promise of distance learning through the Internet has yet to be realized and I'm puzzled why this is the case since it should be possible to collaborate on creating a great online curriculum. Once it is created it can be easily accessed by anyone.

Why don't we use the social networking and collaborative tools we already have to put together an open-sourced curriculum consisting of text, images, videos, lectures, online volunteers acting as tutors, etc. We have all the technology we need to do all of this today.

I've always been amazed that San Francisco/Silicon Valley region public schools are so bad. We are inventing the future here, yet we can't use our ingenuity, our technologies to improve our local schools? Our public schools should be showcases, not basket cases, we should be ashamed to allow this to happen.

So it's good to see Google becoming more interested in schools because there is a lot it could do to help, especially in terms of projects like its Google Books. Maybe it could help to provide text books. It's incredible how expensive textbooks are.

For the past two days Google has hosted a conference on its campus: Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age. The goal was to "create and act upon a breakthrough strategy for scaling up effective models of teaching and learning for children." It's not clear what breakthrough strategy has emerged but at least it's a start,

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October 29, 2009

Number-Crushing: When Figures Get Personal

Carl Bialik:

Everyone can agree that 1+1=2. But the idea that 7 is greater than 13 -- that some numbers are luckier than others -- makes no sense to some people. Such numerical biases can cause deep divisions.

And that is what happened earlier this month in Hong Kong. Property developer Henderson Land Development Co. made news for selling a condominium for $56.6 million, a price the developer called a residential record in Asia. But after that sale was announced, the property began making news for other unusual numbers. Henderson is labeling the floors of its property at 39 Conduit Road with numbers that increase, but not in the conventional 1-then-2 way. The floor above 39, for example, is 60. And the top three floors are consecutively labeled 66, 68 and 88.

This offended some people's sense of order. At a protest Sunday against high housing prices, Hong Kong Democratic Party legislators expressed dissatisfaction with the numbering scheme's tenuous relationship to reality. "You could call the ground floor the 88th floor, but it's meaningless," says Emily Lau. "When you say you live on the 88th floor, people expect you to be on the 88th floor, not the 10th floor or something."

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October 26, 2009

Why We're Failing Math and Science

Wall Street Journal:

The problem is well-known: The U.S. lags far behind other developed countries at the K-12 level in terms of measured performance in math and science courses.

What can be done to change that? The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray posed that question to three experts: Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education; Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania; and Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, who was also a member of the Obama administration transition team working on education issues.

Here are edited excerpts of their discussion:
It's the Teachers

ALAN MURRAY: What will it take to get the American system up to the level of some of the other developed countries in terms of math and science education?

JOEL KLEIN: The most important thing is to bring to K-12 education college graduates who excel in math and science. Those countries that are doing best are recruiting their K-12 teachers from the top third of their college graduates. America is recruiting our teachers generally from the bottom third, and when you go into our high-needs communities, we're clearly underserving them.

MR. MURRAY: How do you explain that? It doesn't seem to be a function of money. We spend more than any of these other countries.

MR. KLEIN: We spend it irrationally. My favorite example is, I pay teachers, basically, based on length of service and a few courses that they take. And I can't by contract pay math and science teachers more than I would pay other teachers in the system, even though at different price points I could attract very different people. We've got to use the money we have much more wisely, attract talent, reward excellence.

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The Financial-Crisis Lit Cheat Sheet

New York Magazine:

Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis -- and Themselves, by Andrew Ross Sorkin

WHAT: A virtually minute-by-minute account of the scariest hours of the crisis, beginning in the aftermath of the seizures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and concluding with TARP and the hastily assembled near-afterthought that was the $180 billion AIG bailout.

BEST BIT: On page 120 appears the first print mention of the rumored affair between Joe Gregory, the widely reviled chief operating officer of Lehman Brothers, and Erin Callan, the statuesque, blonde, wholly inexperienced tax attorney promoted to chief financial officer of the firm at the beginning of the year. According to the book, Callan separated from her husband "around the time" of the promotion, after which she and Gregory "became inseparable."

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October 22, 2009

Students Aren't Learning Math. Can NCLB Help?

Seyward Darby:

New statistics show that U.S. students are struggling to learn basic math. The 2009 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math, a test given every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders nationwide, were released this week. Although average overall scores have doubled since the NAEP was introduced in 1990, results have completely flat-lined among fourth-graders, and the achievement gap between white and black students isn't narrowing.

The New York Times notes that such trends could be linked to the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002:

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For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics

John Tierney:

For today's mathematical puzzle, assume that in the year 1956 there was a children's magazine in New York named after a giant egg, Humpty Dumpty, who purportedly served as its chief editor.

Mr. Dumpty was assisted by a human editor named Martin Gardner, who prepared "activity features" and wrote a monthly short story about the adventures of the child egg, Humpty Dumpty Jr. Another duty of Mr. Gardner's was to write a monthly poem of moral advice from Humpty Sr. to Humpty Jr.

At that point, Mr. Gardner was 42 and had never taken a math course beyond high school. He had struggled with calculus and considered himself poor at solving basic mathematical puzzles, let alone creating them. But when the publisher of Scientific American asked him if there might be enough material for a monthly column on "recreational mathematics," a term that sounded even more oxymoronic in 1956 than it does today, Mr. Gardner took a gamble.

He quit his job with Humpty Dumpty.

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A Moo-Moo Here, and Better Test Scores Later

Javier Hernandez:

But it soon became clear that this was a field "study"-- as the teachers called it -- not a field "trip," and the 75 Harlem kindergartners were going not only for a glimpse of rural life, but to rack up extra points on standardized tests.

"I want to get smarter," 5-year-old Brandon Neal said.

"I want to do better on homework and tests," added Julliana Jimenez, one of his classmates.

New York State's English and math exams include several questions each year about livestock, crops and the other staples of the rural experience that some educators say flummox city children, whose knowledge of nature might begin and end at Central Park. On the state English test this year, for instance, third graders were asked questions relating to chickens and eggs. In math, they had to count sheep and horses.

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October 21, 2009

Our Struggling Public Schools "A Critical, but unspoken reason for the Great Recession"

Tom Friedman via a kind reader's email:

Last summer I attended a talk by Michelle Rhee, the dynamic chancellor of public schools in Washington. Just before the session began, a man came up, introduced himself as Todd Martin and whispered to me that what Rhee was about to speak about -- our struggling public schools -- was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession.

There's something to that. While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street -- precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.

In our subprime era, we thought we could have the American dream -- a house and yard -- with nothing down. This version of the American dream was delivered not by improving education, productivity and savings, but by Wall Street alchemy and borrowed money from Asia.

A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won't be just a passing phase, but our future.

"Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker's global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges," argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor. "This loss of competitiveness has weakened the American worker's production of wealth, precisely when technology brought global competition much closer to home. So over a decade, American workers have maintained their standard of living by borrowing and overconsuming vis-à-vis their real income. When the Great Recession wiped out all the credit and asset bubbles that made that overconsumption possible, it left too many American workers not only deeper in debt than ever, but out of a job and lacking the skills to compete globally."

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October 20, 2009

Students give math a bit more thought

Michael Alison Chandler:

The teenagers in Stephanie Nichols's algebra class have nothing on her blank stare. And they can't even come close to her best confused expression: eyebrows furrowed, mouth frowning, a flash of ditziness framed by a blond bob.

"Sorry if I'm the slow kid," she said, slowly, during a lesson on slope. "I don't get it." As students calculated problems on the board, she interrupted, "I'm really lost. . . . How did you do that?" Occasionally, she was more blunt: "Huh?"

Nichols's vacant looks and incessant questions put the students at Arlington County's Washington-Lee High School in the uncomfortable position of being the math teacher, explaining how the numbers on the white board relate to each other, how algebra actually works.

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October 19, 2009

Harvard admits to $1.8b gaffe in cash holdings

Beth Healy:

Harvard University, one of the world's richest educational institutions, stumbled into its financial crisis in part by breaking one of the most basic rules of corporate or family finance: Don't gamble with the money you need to pay the daily bills.

The university disclosed yesterday that it had lost $1.8 billion in cash - money it relies on for the school's everyday expenses - by investing it with its endowment fund, instead of keeping it in safe, bank-like accounts. The disclosure was made in the school's annual report for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Typically, companies and big institutions manage their cash conservatively in order to have it readily available, by keeping the money in such low-risk investments as money-market mutual funds.

But Harvard placed a large portion of its cash with Harvard Management Co., the entity that runs the university's endowment and invests in stocks, hedge funds, and other risky assets. It has been widely reported that Harvard Management's endowment investments were battered in the market crash - down 27 percent in its last fiscal year. Not revealed until yesterday was that the school's basic cash portfolio had also been caught in the undertow.

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October 18, 2009

Beware The Reverse Brain Drain To India And China

Vivek Wadhwa:

I spent Columbus Day in Sunnyvale, fittingly, meeting with a roomful of new arrivals. Well, relatively new. They were Indians living in Silicon Valley. The event was organized by the Think India Foundation, a think-tank that seeks to solve problems which Indians face. When introducing the topic of skilled immigration, the discussion moderator, Sand Hill Group founder M.R. Rangaswami asked the obvious question. How many planned to return to India? I was shocked to see more than three-quarters of the audience raise their hands.

Even Rangaswami was taken back. He lived in a different Silicon Valley, from a time when Indians flocked to the U.S. and rapidly populated the programming (and later executive) ranks of the top software companies in California. But the generational difference between older Indians who have made it in the Valley and the younger group in the room was striking. The present reality is this. Large numbers of the Valley's top young guns (and some older bulls, as well) are seeing opportunities in other countries and are returning home. It isn't just the Indians. Ask any VC who does business in China, and they'll tell you about the tens of thousands who have already returned to cities like Shanghai and Beijing. The VC's are following the talent. And this is bringing a new vitality to R&D in China and India.

Why would such talented people voluntarily leave Silicon Valley, a place that remains the hottest hotbed of technology innovation on Earth? Or to leave other promising locales such as New York City, Boston and the Research Triangle area of North Carolina? My team of researchers at Duke, Harvard and Berkeley polled 1203 returnees to India and China during the second half of 2008 to find answers to exactly this question. What we found should concern even the most boisterous Silicon Valley boosters.

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October 16, 2009

California math scores among the lowest

Jill Tucker:

f not for the two southern states, California students would be at the bottom of the national heap in mathematics, according to the 2009 Nation's Report Card released Wednesday.

The abysmal standing, which reflects in part the state's diverse population, hasn't changed much over the years. California consistently has ranked among the lowest-scoring states in the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally mandated assessment of a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders across the country.

On the plus side, state students have made steady progress over the years, generally keeping pace with their national counterparts - albeit from the back of the pack.

California's fourth-graders outscored their peers in only the two southern states and the District of Columbia, and tied five states. Eighth-graders outscored only Mississippi and the District of Columbia, and tied four states.

Overall, California students performed at or below the national average regardless of income or ethnicity.

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October 15, 2009

NAEP Math 2009: What it All Means

Kevin Carey:

The 2009 state NAEP math results were released today, and they're disappointing. Fourth grade scores, which have been a great and under-recognized success story over the last two decades, were flat. Eighth grade scores rose slightly. What to conclude? Most broadly, that most of the claims about national education policy, pro and con, have been overwrought.

Supporters of the No Child Left Behind Act-and I've generally been one of them-hoped that the law would catalyze a major upward move in student achievement. That hasn't happened. Perhaps it's because every state got to choose its own standards; perhaps it's because the law did little to get better teachers in classrooms; perhaps it's because yawning revenue disparities between and within states were largely unaddressed. Whatever was missing, something was missing, probably many things, and the next version of ESEA will need significant changes if we want to achieve more than just more of the same.

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October 14, 2009

45% of Wisconsin Fourth Graders and 39% of Wisconsin Eighth Graders Proficient on the Latest "Nation's Report Card"

Amy Hetzner:

Fourth- and eighth-graders in Wisconsin have improved their scores on a national mathematics test since the early 1990s, but the gap between the performance of the state's white and black students has not gotten any better, according to test results released Wednesday.

The state's math results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed little change from the last time scores for those age groups were released two years ago. Fourth-graders in Wisconsin posted the same average score - 244 - that they had two years ago, although the percentage of students deemed proficient or higher in math slid to 45% from 47%. The average score for eighth-graders rose slightly to 288 on a 500-point scale, with the proficiency rate rising as well, to 39%.

"Wisconsin has made slow but steady gains in mathematics achievement for both overall achievement and for most subgroups of students," State Superintendent Tony Evers said in a news release about the results. "However, achievement gaps, in particular for African-American students in Wisconsin, are too large. We must do more."

The NAEP - also called the nation's report card - is given to samples of students to monitor progress on a statewide basis. In Wisconsin, questions from the math test were given to 3,830 fourth-graders and 3,474 eighth-graders from January to March this year. The test does not attempt to gauge performance by individual school districts.

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October 7, 2009

New Tack on Math Promoted Problem-Solving Is Focus of High School Guide

Sean Cavanagh:

Three years after calling for a reordering of elementary and middle school math curricula, the nation's largest group of math teachers is urging a new approach to high school instruction, one that aims to build students' ability to choose and apply the most effective problem-solving techniques, in the classroom and in life.
Cultivating those skills will make math more useful, and more meaningful, to students, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics argues in a document scheduled for release this week.

"Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making" is a follow-up to the NCTM's 2006 document, "Curriculum Focal Points," which offered grade-by-grade content standards in math for prekindergarten through 8th grade. "Focal Points" won general praise in math circles, even from some of the NCTM's strongest critics.

The high school document has both a different purpose and a different structure. It is not a suggested set of content standards, but rather a framework that attempts to show how skills that the NCTM considers essential--reasoning and sense-making--can be promoted across high school math.

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October 2, 2009

More on Singapore Math & The Madison School District

Next week's Madison School Board agenda includes a number of pages [PDF] regarding the purchase of Singapore Math materials for elementary schools. Recent activity on this front included the purchase of workbooks without textbooks.
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September 30, 2009

Latest issue of MMSD Today: Madison School District teachers experts in system of math instruction

Dawn Stiegert @ The Madison Metropolitan School District:

The national mathematics conference on Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) had a strong Madison School District presence, with teachers there as presenters and attendees.

MMSD teachers involved with the Expanding Math Knowledge grant had the opportunity to attend the conference this summer in San Diego. EMK was a two-year grant funded by the WI Dept. of Public Instruction. The MMSD Dept. of Teaching and Learning collaborated with the UW-Madison College of Education to provide continued and expanded math education for approximately 40 teachers in grades 3-5.

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September 17, 2009

Innovative math program boosts scores at O.C. schools

Seema Mehta:

In the airy computer lab at Romero-Cruz Elementary School in Santa Ana, 11-year-old Davis Nguyen quickly completed math problems. Each correct answer let an animated penguin named JiJi take steps across a bridge. The computer game looked simple, but backers say it is part of an innovative and powerful new way to teach math, and standardized test results released Tuesday appear to back up their claims.

Across the state, schools saw a 4.5% increase in the number of elementary students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" in math. But 64 Orange County elementary schools that took part in a math program created by the nonprofit MIND Research Institute saw a nearly 13% increase in the number of students scoring in those top levels.

The achievement buoyed the schools' rating as well.

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September 13, 2009

Math illiteracy

This site continues to mention math curricula challenges from time to time, and as long as I am around, and have community math experiences, it will continue to do so.

I try to visit Madison's wonderful Farmer's Market weekly. This past weekend, I purchased some fabulous raspberries from an older Hmong couple. Their raspberries are the best. Unfortunately, while I made my purchase, they asked how much change I was due, something I saw repeated with other buyers. They periodically have a younger person around to handle the transactions, or a calculator.

Purchasing tickets at high school sporting events presents yet another opportunity to evaluate high schooler's basic, but ESSENTIAL math skills. A Dane County teenager could not make change from $10 for three $2 tickets recently. I have experienced this at local retail establishments as well.

Unfortunately, the "Discovery" approach to math does not appear work....

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September 6, 2009

Deja vu: Report of the 1965 Madison School District Math 9 Textbook Committee

1.7MB PDF by Robert D. Gilberts, Superintendent Madison School District, Ted Losby and the Math 9 Textbook Committee:

The mathematics committee of the junior high schools of Madison has been meeting regularly for four rears with one intention in mind -- to improve the mathematics program of the junior high school. After experimenting with three programs in the 7th grade, the Seeing Through Mathematics series, Books 1 and 2, were recommended for adoption and approved in May of 1963.

The committee continued its leadership role in implementing the new program and began evaluation of the 9th grade textbooks available. The committee recommended the adoption of Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 3, published by Scott, Foresman and Company, and Algebra: Its Element and Structure, Book 1, published by Webster Division, McGraw-Hill Book Company, and the Board of Education adopted them on May 3, 1965.

A number of objections to the Seeing Through Mathematics textbooks were made by various University of Wisconsin professors. Dr. R. C. Buck, chairman of the University of Wisconsin Mathematics Department strongly criticized the series. A public objection to the adoption was made at the Board of Education meeting by Dr. Richard Askey of the University Mathematics Department. Later, a formal petition of protest against the adoption of Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 3, was sent to committee members. [related: 2006 Open Letter from 35 UW-Madison Math Professors about the Madison School District's Math Coordinator position]

The sincerity of the eminently qualified professional mathematicians under Dr. Buck's chairmanship was recognized by both the administration and the committee as calling for reconsideration of the committee's decisions over the past three years relative to the choice of Seeing Through Mathematics 1, 2 and 3.

Conversely, the support of the Scott, Foresman and. Company mathematics program and its instruction philosophy, as evidenced by numerous adoptions throughout the country and the pilot studies carried out in the Madison Public Schoolsvindicated that equitable treatment of those holding diametric viewpoints should be given. It was decided that the interests of the students to be taught would be best served through a hearing of both sides before reconsideration.

A special meeting of the Junior High School. Mathematics committee was held on June 10, 1965.

Meeting 1. Presentations were made by Dr. R. C. Buck, Dr. Richard Askey, and Dr. Walter Rudin of the University of Wisconsin Mathematics Department, and Dr. J. B. Rosen, chairman-elect of the University of Wisconsin Computer Sciences Department.

The presentations emphasized the speakers' major criticism of the Seeing Through Mathematics series -- "that these books completely distort the ideas and spirit of modern mathematics, and do not give students a good preparation for future mathematics courses. Examples were used to show that from the speakers' points of view the emphasis in Seeing Through Mathematics is wrong. They indicated they felt the language overly pedantic, and the mathematics of the textbooks was described as pseudo-mathematics. However, it was pointed out that the choice of topics was good the content was acceptable (except for individual instances), and the treatment was consistent. A question and answer session tollowed the presentations.


After careful consideration of all points of view, the committee unanimously recommended:

  1. that the University of Wisconsin Mathematics and Education Departments be invited to participate with our Curriculum Department in developing end carrying out a program to evaluate the effectiveness of the Seeing Through Mathematics series and, if possible, other "modern" mathematics series in Madison and other school districts in Wisconsin;
  2. that the committee reaffirm its decision to recommend the use of Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 3, and Algebra: Its Elements and structure, Book 1, in grade nine with Seeing Through Mathematics, Book 1 and 2 in grades seven and eight, and that the Department of Curriculum Developnent of the Madison Public Schools continue its study, its evaluation, and its revision of the mathematics curriculum; and
  3. that en in-service program be requested for all junior high school mathematics teachers. (Details to follow in a later bulletin).
Related: The recent Madison School District Math Task Force.

Britannica on deja vu.

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September 1, 2009

Significant Gender Gap on the PSAT Math Test

Mark Perry:

The table above (click to enlarge) is based on PSAT scores in 2008 for college-bound juniors for males and females taking the mathematics exam, showing the results for the five geographical regions of the U.S. For both males and females, the highest scores were in the Midwest states, similar to the findings for the SAT test results, reported yesterday on the NY Times Economix blog, "Why The Midwest Rules on the SAT."

The results also show a significant gender gap in favor of males for the mean math test scores in all five regions, with mean male test scores ranging from 3.2 points higher in the Midwest (52.2 for males vs. 49 for females)to a low of 2.5 points higher in the South (50 points for males vs. 47.5 for females). In all five regions, the standard deviation of male test scores was higher than the standard deviation of female test scores, confirming previous findings of greater variability in male intelligence/scores on standardized tests.

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August 29, 2009

To Take or Not to Take AP and IB

Jay Matthews:

The Question:
Is it better for college admissions to take an IB or AP class and receive a C or D or take a standard class and receive an A or B? Our office is decidedly split on this matter. The majority of us feel that it is better to make the grade since GPA is the first cut often for college admissions. We usually advise our students that if they are going to take an IB or AP class they need to get an A or B in the class, and to take an IB or AP class in their strength area.
My Answer:
The high school educators and college admissions officers I know best have convinced me that EVERY student going to college should take at least one college-level course and exam in high school. AP, IB or Cambridge are the best in my view, although a dual enrollment course and test given by the staff of a local college is also good. Students need that taste of college trauma to be able to make a smooth transition their freshman year.
When you consider actual situations, the threat of a bad grade from taking AP or IB fades away. A student strong enough to have a chance of admission to a selective college, the only kind that pays close attention to relative GPAs of their applicants, will be strong enough a student to get a decent grade in an AP or IB class, and a decent score on the exam. If they do NOT get a good grade in the course or the exam, then they are, almost by definition, not strong enough to compete with other students trying to get into those selective colleges. Their SAT or ACT score will show that, even if they don't take AP or IB, and I suspect their overall GPA even without AP or IB will not be that great. If you know of a straight-A, 2100 SAT student who did poorly in an AP course, let me know, and I will revise my opinion. But I have never encountered such a student in 20 years of looking at these issues.

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August 28, 2009

My summer at the Woodstock for technologists

Simon Daniel:

It's not every day you move an atom with a mouse click. But this is precisely what I do one day at the Singularity University, a new institution supported by Google and Nasa, which aims to educate a select group of entrepreneurs and scientists about the rapid pace of technology.

The class of 40 students - who are taking time out of their working lives - has settled into a busy routine. Our 12-hour days are crammed with experiments, visits to technology centres including IBM and Willow Garage, and discussion with experts. The purpose is to open our eyes to the pace of change and future possibilities.

On Wednesday we arrive at IBM Almaden research centre, a series of black glass buildings in the hills near San Jose. Unassuming office doors open to reveal scientists working away in a scene reminiscent of a sci-fi movie. We meet Kevin Roche, who is building complex machines that can deposit thin films of atoms to form nano-scale devices.

This is where, in 1989, the physicist Donald Eigler built a scanning tunnelling microscope and demonstrated the ability precisely to manipulate individual atoms by rearranging xenon atoms to spell out IBM. In homage, we use a similar machine and write SU (for Singularity University) by selecting iron atoms with a mouse and nudging them across the screen.

We open another door and witness magnetic "racetrack" memory experiments. This is the idea of storing data in magnetic field domains that can then slide or "race" along nano-wires so they can be read quickly. The idea may help our future portable devices to store hundreds of times more video.

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August 27, 2009

Sam Savage And His War Against Averages - Creating A New Data Type For Risky Models

Tom Foremski:

using single numbers in spreadsheets used to model financial risk and instead use a "distribution" - a range of numbers. He says that by using a distribution or "dist" we would be able to not only produce better models of uncertainty but we would avoid fundamental mistakes in modeling financial and operational performance.

Mr Savage recently published a book "The Flaw of Averages - Why we underestimate risk in the face of uncertainty" which explains his evangelism for the use of dists within financial models of risk.

Currently, the most widely used method of predicting uncertainty is to use single numbers, usually representing a single average of expected outcomes.

However, models based on average assumptions are wrong on average. This is a paradox that has been known by mathematicians for nearly 100 years, called Jensen's Inequality. Although business schools teach Jensen's Inequality, business managers continue to use average numbers to try to model things like demand, production, and project completion time. And they are constantly surprised by real world outcomes that can be very costly.

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August 24, 2009

Schools Boost Science, Math With Hands-On Teaching

Christy Goodman:

To answer the age-old question "When am I going to use this?," school systems in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties are working to enrich their science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs by using hands-on teaching, guest speakers and real-world experiments and applications.

Charles is expanding its Gateway to Technology to all middle schools after a successful pilot program last year, school system spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson said. The program is part of the nationally recognized Project Lead the Way curriculum, which supports engineering and science.

"It focuses on showing, rather than telling, students how to use engineering in everyday problems," O'Malley-Simpson said. "They see that because they are applying their skills as they learn them."

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August 23, 2009

US Students are Average on International Tests

US Department of Education:

Major findings include:

In PIRLS 2006, the average U.S. 4th-graders' reading literacy score (540) was above the PIRLS scale average of 500, but below that of 4th-graders in 10 of the 45 participating countries, including 3 Canadian provinces (Russian Federation, Hong Kong, Alberta, British Columbia, Singapore, Luxembourg, Ontario, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden).

Among the 28 countries that participated in both the 2001 and 2006 PIRLS assessments, the average reading literacy score increased in 8 countries and decreased in 6 countries. In the rest of these countries, including the United States, there was no measurable change in the average reading literacy score between 2001 and 2006. The number of these countries that outperformed the United States increased from 3 in 2001 to 7 in 2006.

The 2007 TIMSS results showed that U.S. students' average mathematics score was 529 for 4th-graders and 508 for 8th-graders. Both scores were above the TIMSS scale average, which is set at 500 for every administration of TIMSS at both grades, and both were higher than the respective U.S. score in 1995.

Fourth-graders in 8 of the 35 other countries that participated in 2007 (Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, England, and Latvia) scored above their U.S. peers, on average; and 8th-graders in 5 of the 47 other countries that participated in 2007 (Chinese Taipei, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan) scored above their U.S. peers, on average.

Among the 16 countries that participated in both the first TIMSS in 1995 and the most recent TIMSS in 2007, at grade 4, the average mathematics score increased in 8 countries, including in the United States, and decreased in 4 countries. Among the 20 countries that participated in both the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS at grade 8, the average mathematics score increased in 6 countries, including in the United States, and decreased in 10 countries.

In PISA 2006, U.S. 15-year-old students' average mathematics literacy score of 474 was lower than the OECD average of 498, and placed U.S. 15-year-olds in the bottom quarter of participating OECD nations, a relative position unchanged from 2003.

Fifteen-year-old students in 23 of the 29 other participating OECD-member countries outperformed their U.S. peers.

There was no measurable change in U.S. 15-year-olds' average mathematics literacy score between 2003 and 2006, in its relationship to the OECD average, or in its relative position to the countries whose scores increased or decreased.

The 2007 TIMSS results showed that U.S. students' average science score was 539 for 4th-graders and 520 for 8th-graders. Both scores were above the TIMSS scale average, which is set at 500 for every administration of TIMSS at both grades, but neither was measurably different than the respective U.S. score in 1995.

Fourth-graders in 4 of the 35 other countries that participated in 2007 (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, and Japan) scored above their U.S. peers, on average; and 8th-graders in 9 of the 47 other countries that participated in 2007 (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, England, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and the Russian Federation) scored above their U.S. peers, on average.

While there was no measurable change in the average score of U.S. 4th-graders or 8th-graders in science between 1995 and 2007, among the other 15 countries that participated in the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS at grade 4, the average science score increased in 7 countries and decreased in 5 countries; and among the other 18 countries that participated in both the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS at grade 8, the average science score increased in 5 countries and decreased in 3 countries.

In PISA 2006, U.S. 15-year-old students' average science literacy score of 489 was lower than the OECD average of 500, and placed U.S. 15-year-olds in the bottom third of participating OECD nations. Fifteen-year-old students in 16 of the 29 other participating OECD-member countries outperformed their U.S. peers in terms of average scores.

Technical notes about the data sources, methodology, and standard errors are included at the end of this report.

Joanne has more.

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August 11, 2009

Pilot math project involves SRI, USF and Helios Education Foundation

Tampa Bay Business Journal:

SunBay Digital Mathematics, a math education pilot project, began this week in Pinellas County.

The Helios Education Foundation and the Pinellas County School District are partnering with SRI International and the University of South Florida's College of Education in a project to set the direction for middle school mathematics, a release said.

The one-year project involves 15 seventh-grade teachers in seven Pinellas schools. They will attend workshops and monthly meetings focused on using technology-based curriculum based on advanced math concepts.

The Pinellas Education Foundation is the fiscal agent for funding the project.

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August 9, 2009

Madison School District Elementary Math Curriculum Purchases

Superintendent Dan Nerad [64K PDF]:

MMSD has begun a three-year implementation plan to achieve an equitable and balanced mathematics program at tbe elementary level. The plan was developed and refined through collaboration with teachers, Instructional Resource Teachers and principals over the course of the past several years. The plan includes the materials described below (details via this 64K PDF),

With the attached order, MMSD has provided each classroom teacher in the District with a Learning Mathematics in the Primary/Intermediate Grades instructional guide and the set of teacher resources from the Investigations program. The third component of the teacher materials is Teaching Student Centered Mathematics by John Van de Walle, which is in place in most classrooms but will continue to be ordered using ELM or Title I funds, as necessary. Additional professional resources have been or are being purchased at the building level to create a library available for all staff to access as needed. Those resources include Primary Mathematics textbooks and teacher guides, Thinking Mathematically and Children's Mathematics by Thomas Carpenter, Teaching Number series from Wright, among other recommended titles.

MMSD has provided all Title I schools with the Primary Mathematics (Singapore) workbooks and Extra Practice workbooks for the 2009-2010 school year. All manipulatives have been ordered for Title I schools over tbe past two years and are in place. Non-Title I schools have been and will continue to use ELM funds to purchase tbe student components for the implementation of a balanced mathematics classroom.


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August 6, 2009

For Today's Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics

Steve Lohr:

At Harvard, Carrie Grimes majored in anthropology and archaeology and ventured to places like Honduras, where she studied Mayan settlement patterns by mapping where artifacts were found. But she was drawn to what she calls "all the computer and math stuff" that was part of the job.

"People think of field archaeology as Indiana Jones, but much of what you really do is data analysis," she said.

Now Ms. Grimes does a different kind of digging. She works at Google, where she uses statistical analysis of mounds of data to come up with ways to improve its search engine.

Ms. Grimes is an Internet-age statistician, one of many who are changing the image of the profession as a place for dronish number nerds. They are finding themselves increasingly in demand -- and even cool.

"I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians," said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. "And I'm not kidding."

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July 27, 2009

Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems Part I

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students' questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.

I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.

Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students' lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have only a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.

In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students' questions and providing explicit instruction are "handing it to the student" and preventing them from "constructing their own knowledge"--to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what "discovery learning" actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Garelick's part ii on Discovery learning can be found here.

Related: The Madison School District purchases Singapore Math workbooks with no textbooks or teacher guides. Much more on math here.

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July 26, 2009

Bill Gates: Tough US immigration stance a 'huge mistake'; Seeks More exceptions for 'smart people'

Austin Modine:

Bill Gates called US immigration restrictions a "huge mistake" while on tour of India today, urging America to open its golden doors for more "smart people."

The Microsoft billionaire spoke out on US immigration at a software CEO forum Monday in New Deli while visiting the country to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development.

"I have been speaking about some of the immigration restrictions that the US has got involved in, and they are terrible for the US and also terrible for the world," India's national newspaper The Hindu quotes Gates saying. "The US Congress is very tough on immigration, in general. And my position has been, well, that is unfortunate, but what about making an exception for smart people, people with engineering degrees and letting such people come in."

Adding that Microsoft has always been against tougher immigration laws, Gates said stricter US policy would be a "huge mistake."

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At Foothill, a college-level program for middle school students lagging in math

Jessie Mangaliman:

Maria Mendoza is hunkered over her math workbook, diligently copying a work sheet, "Adding 3 & 4 Digit Numbers." She had copied it once already, and completed the problems. But there were two minor errors and the math teacher, Agnes Kaiser, had returned it to be done over.
Mendoza, 13, happily complied.

"Now I get it," she said, satisfied.

Maria, who will be in eighth grade this fall at Graham Middle School, was one of 81 students from Mountain View in the four-week summer math program that ended Friday at Foothill College in Los Altos.

This is no ordinary summer math camp for students behind many grades in their learning of math. The curriculum used to teach Maria and other students is Math My Way, the program the college has been using successfully for years to teach intensive, remedial math to incoming community college students with elementary-level math skills. The camp was funded with a $77,000 grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, part of an initiative to close the education achievement gap, a learning disparity among different racial groups.

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July 19, 2009

Wash. Board of Education revises math requirement


The State Board of Education has made a minor revision in the high school math credit requirements.

During a meeting in Gig Harbor on Friday, the board gave students more flexibility in their choices for high school math.

The board decided earlier that beginning with the class of 2013, high school students will be required to earn three credits of math to earn a diploma.

When the requirement was changed, the state rule said students who took a high school level math class without credit as an eighth grader were required to repeat that same course for credit in high school.

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July 16, 2009

Education reform in Massachusetts A chance for charters

The Economist:

Independent public schools may be getting a chance in the Bay State

MASSACHUSETTS ranks at or near the top of national measures of how well schoolchildren do at reading and mathematics. A leader in early-years education, it is also applauded for its vocational, technical and agriculture schools. Still, there are problems. The disparity between students in affluent districts and those in low-income urban ones is shocking. In the Concord/Carlisle school district, for instance, 92% of students graduated from high-school on time and planned to attend a four-year college or university in 2007, compared with just 12.8% in Holyoke, one of the poorest cities in the state.

Many states have turned to charter schools (self-governing publicly-funded schools) to close achievement gaps like that, but charters are a tricky subject in Massachusetts even though the few they do have, such as Boston Collegiate, are among the best in the country. Unions abhor them while the school boards that run most public schools fear losing power and funding. Politicians have been unwilling to take on Massachusetts's mighty unions.

Last year Deval Patrick, the self-styled "education governor" of the state, unveiled a 55-point plan to overhaul the state's education system. The governor's package includes the introduction of three types of "readiness schools" to turn around poorly performing districts. Like charters, they will have greater flexibility, autonomy and will be held accountable for their results. But they will not be fully independent, remaining under the control of local school boards. Mr Patrick will introduce a bill authorising these schools later this month. One sort would have an external partner, such as a university, while another would be teacher-led.

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A failing grade for Maryland math

Liz Bowie:

Maryland's public schools are teaching mathematics in such a way that many graduates cannot be placed in entry-level college math classes because they do not have a grasp of the basics, according to education experts and professors.

College math professors say there is a gap between what is taught in the state's high schools and what is needed in college. Many schools have de-emphasized drilling students in basic math, such as multiplication and division, they say.

"We have hordes of students who come in and have forgotten their basic arithmetic," said Donna McKusick, dean for developmental education at the Community College of Baltimore County. College professors say students are taught too early to rely on calculators. "You say, 'What is seven times seven?' and they don't know," McKusick said.

Ninety-eight percent of Baltimore students signing up for classes at Baltimore City Community College had to pay for remedial classes to learn the material that should have been covered in high school. Across Maryland, 49 percent of the state's high school graduates take remedial classes in college before they can take classes for credit.

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Your e-mail has emerged as a winner of £500,000.00 GBP (Five hundred thousand British Pounds) in our on-going Google Promotion

Library of Congress Vatican Exhibit:

Classical Roots of the Scientific Revolution.

For over a thousand years--from the fifth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D.--Greek mathematicians maintained a splendid tradition of work in the exact sciences: mathematics, astronomy, and related fields. Though the early synthesis of Euclid and some of the supremely brilliant works of Archimedes were known in the medieval west, this tradition really survived elsewhere. In Byzantium, the capital of the Greek-speaking Eastern empire, the original Greek texts were copied and preserved. In the Islamic world, in locales that ranged from Spain to Persia, the texts were studied in Arabic translations and fundamental new work was done. The Vatican Library has one of the richest collections in the world of the products of this tradition, in all its languages and forms. Both the manuscripts that the Vatican collected and the work done on them in Rome proved vital to the recovery of ancient science--which, in turn, laid the foundation for the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the Roman Renaissance, science and humanistic scholarship were not only not enemies; they were natural allies.

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July 14, 2009

Why America is flunking science

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum:

In the recent Tom Hanks/Ron Howard film "Angels & Demons," science sets the stage for destruction and chaos. A canister of antimatter has been stolen from CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research -- and hidden in the Vatican, set to explode right as a new pope is about to be selected.

Striving to make these details as realistic as possible on screen, Howard and his film crew visited CERN, used one of its physicists as a science consultant, and devoted meticulous care to designing the antimatter canister that Hanks' character, Robert Langdon, and his sexy scientist colleague, Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), wind up searching for.

But there was nothing they could do about the gigantic impossibility at the center of the plot. While the high-energy proton collisions generated at CERN do occasionally produce minute quantities of antimatter -- particles with the opposite electrical charge as protons and electrons, but the same mass, which can in turn be combined into atoms like antihydrogen -- it's not remotely enough to power a bomb. As CERN quips on a Web site devoted to "Angels & Demons," antimatter "would be very dangerous if we could make a few grams of it, but this would take us billions of years."

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July 13, 2009

Maths dunces who don't make the cut: Haberdashers have to reject nine out of ten applicants because they can't add up

Andrew Levy:

When the Bamberger family opened a haberdashery 65 years ago, they insisted their staff use mental arithmetic to price up customers' purchases.

Despite the arrival of calculators, that attitude has remained unchanged over the intervening years.

But now the family finds itself facing an unexpected maths problem - most youngsters it would like to employ are incapable of working out sums in their heads.

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July 12, 2009

Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity

Christopher T. Cross, Taniesha A. Woods, and Heidi Schweingruber, Editors; Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics; National Research Council:
arly childhood mathematics is vitally important for young children's present and future educational success. Research has demonstrated that virtually all young children have the capability to learn and become competent in mathematics. Furthermore, young children enjoy their early informal experiences with mathematics. Unfortunately, many children's potential in mathematics is not fully realized, especially those children who are economically disadvantaged. This is due, in part, to a lack of opportunities to learn mathematics in early childhood settings or through everyday experiences in the home and in their communities. Improvements in early childhood mathematics education can provide young children with the foundation for school success.

Relying on a comprehensive review of the research, Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood lays out the critical areas that should be the focus of young children's early mathematics education, explores the extent to which they are currently being incorporated in early childhood settings, and identifies the changes needed to improve the quality of mathematics experiences for young children. This book serves as a call to action to improve the state of early childhood mathematics. It will be especially useful for policy makers and practitioners-those who work directly with children and their families in shaping the policies that affect the education of young children.
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July 9, 2009

Indiana providing teaching fellowships in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation:

The Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellowship seeks to attract talented, committed individuals with backgrounds in the STEM fields--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--into teaching in high-need Indiana high schools. Learn more...

Funded through a $10 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the Fellowship offers rigorous disciplinary and pedagogical preparation, extensive clinical experience, and ongoing mentoring. Eligible applicants include current undergraduates, recent college graduates, midcareer professionals, and retirees who have majored in, or had careers in, STEM fields.

When will the MMSD and the State of WI follow suit?


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July 7, 2009

How I Spent My Summer: Hacking Into iPhones With Friends

Yukari Iwatani Kane:

Like many teenagers, Ari Weinstein spends his summers riding his bike and swimming. This year, the 15-year-old had another item on his to-do list: Foil Apple Inc.'s brightest engineers and annoy chief executive Steve Jobs.

Ari is part of a loose-knit group of hackers that has made it a mission to "jailbreak" Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. The term refers to installing unapproved software that lets people download a range of programs, including those not sanctioned by Apple.

Since Apple began selling its latest iPhone 3GS on June 19, Ari and six online cohorts spent hours a day probing the new product for security holes. This weekend, one of the member of the group, dubbed the Chronic Dev Team, released the jailbreaking software they've been working on. Ari says the program is a test version with some bugs, but that users have successfully downloaded it. A quarter-million people have visited the site, he says.

"Coding and testing things that may or may not work, and figuring things out, is a really rewarding experience," says Ari, a Philadelphia resident who began hacking when he was 11.

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July 6, 2009

Wisconsin's New K-12 Academic Standards

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin education officials are aiming to move into the national mainstream by setting firmer standards for what children should learn in school and finding better ways to measure achievement.

A new report from the American Diploma Project praises Wisconsin's proposed new set of standards for high school English and math. The report is the latest of several indications that changes are being made when it comes to student expectations - and that others are noticing.

Wisconsin built a reputation in recent years for having loosely written state standards. The state was viewed as setting the bar about as low as anywhere in the country in determining if students were proficient, and taking too rosy an approach to deciding whether schools were getting adequate results.

Several national groups, some of them with conservative orientations but others harder to peg politically, criticized the state for its softness.

The report from the Diploma Project, issued last week, says that in revising its statement of what students are expected to learn in English and math, "Wisconsin has taken an important step to better prepare young people for success in post-secondary education and in their careers."

Much more on the WKCE here.

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Like Her Subject, Math Teacher's Dedication and Conviction Were Absolute

Lauren Wiseman:

Doris Broome DeBoe, who became one of the District's leading math teachers, said she was drawn to the subject because it was absolute. Where other subjects were subjective, she said, math was exact.

"Once you understand what you are doing, there is no deviation," she said.

As a teacher, she believed in endless math drills, nightly homework and practice. She described herself not as a harsh instructor but as one who thought algebra is "a skill like ball playing and piano playing. Once you learn the basics, practice is necessary to ensure mastery."

She said every child had the potential to do well in class. "My best dog is the underdog," she told her students.

Her conviction motivated many students. Michael Bell, a student at Bertie Backus Middle School in the mid-1970s, said Mrs. DeBoe was the inspiration for creating his math preparation company, Acaletics, which helps develop curriculums and training programs within the Florida public school system. His company follows the same basic formula as Mrs. DeBoe's teaching: Practice makes perfect.

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July 3, 2009

A Bank Run Teaches the 'Plain People' About the Risks of Modernity

Douglas Belkin:

Dan Bontrager is a 54-year-old Amish man with flecks of gray in his long beard. He's also treasurer of the Tri-County Land Trust, an Amish lending cooperative created to support the Amish maxim that community enhances faith in God.

This past spring, Mr. Bontrager was startled when a number of men he has known most of his life tied their horses to the hitching post outside his office and came inside to withdraw their money from the Land Trust.

"We had a run," Mr. Bontrager says. "I don't know if you know anything about the Amish grapevine, but word travels fast. Somebody assumed it was going to happen, and it started a panic."

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June 29, 2009

Is Wisconsin state-of-the-art for K-12 science and math education?

Anneliese Dickman:

The Public Policy Forum's latest report, released today, finds that of the 10 career clusters predicted to grow the most over the next five years, seven include occupations requiring strong backgrounds in science, math, technology, or engineering (STEM). Of the 10 specific jobs predicted to be the fastest growing in the state, eight require STEM skills or knowledge and six require a post-secondary degree.

Do Wisconsin's state educational policies reflect this growing need for STEM-savvy and skilled workers? Are Wisconsin education officials focusing on STEM in a coherent and coordinated way? Our new report probes those issues by examining state workforce development data and reviewing state-level policies and standards that impact STEM education.

We present several policy options that could be considered to build on localized STEM initiatives and establish a greater statewide imperative to prioritize STEM activities in coordination with workforce needs. Those include:

Amy Hetzner has more.

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A Formula for Changing Math Education

Someone always asks the math teacher, "Am I going to use calculus in real life?" And for most of us, says Arthur Benjamin, the answer is no. He offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age.
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June 28, 2009

If you want to get someone to do something, ask them in their right ear, say scientists


Italian researchers found people were better at processing information when requests were made on that side in three separate tests.

They believe this is because the left side of the brain, which is known to be better at processing requests, deals with information from the right ear.

The findings are reported online in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

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June 25, 2009

American IT grads unprepared and unemployable: Indian CEO Vineet Nayar

Richi Jennings:

Vineet Nayar is reported to have called Americans graduates "unemployable"; the CEO of IT services vendor HCL Technologies was speaking recently in New York. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers debate racism, stereotyping, sweatshops, and H1B visas.

By Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher, who has selected these bloggy tidbits for your enjoyment. Not to mention the best gaming toilets...

Rob Preston reports inflammatory comments with dignity:

via Lou Minatti.

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June 23, 2009

Gender gap in maths driven by social factors, not biological differences

Ed Yong:

History has had no shortage of outstanding female mathematicians, from Hypatia of Alexandria to Ada Lovelace, and yet no woman has ever won the Fields medal - the Nobel prize of the maths world. The fact that men outnumber women in the highest echelons of mathematics (as in science, technology and engineering) has always been controversial, particularly for the persistent notion that this disparity is down to an innate biological advantage.

AdaLovelace.jpgNow, two professors from the University of Wisconsin - Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz - have reviewed the strong evidence that at least in maths, the gender gap is down to social and cultural factors that can help or hinder women from pursuing the skills needed to master mathematics.

The duo of Janets have published a review that tackles the issue from three different angles. They considered the presence of outstanding female mathematicians. Looking beyond individuals, they found that gender differences in maths performance don't really exist in the general population, with girls now performing as well as boys in standardised tests. Among the mathematically talented, a gender gap is more apparent but it is closing fast in many countries and non-existent in others. And tellingly, the size of the gap strongly depends on how equally the two sexes are treated.

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Girls vs. Boys at Math

Joyce Gramza:

Are men naturally better at math than women or is that just an out-dated stereotype? When former Harvard president Larry Summers said publicly in 2005 that men are innately better at math, many women were outraged. So a couple of women scientists decided to research it. This ScienCentral News video explains their report published this week.

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June 21, 2009

Larry Summers Vindicated? Global Study Shows Greater Male Variability in Math, Reading Scores

Mark Perry:

The tables above show selected statistics from the paper Global Sex Differences in Test Score Variability (see summary here), published by two economists, one from the London School of Economics and the other from the Helsinki School of Economics. Analyzing standardized test scores in reading and mathematics from the OECD's "Program for International Student Assessment" (PISA), a survey of 15-year olds in 41 industrialized countries, the authors found that:

Our analysis of international test score data shows a higher variance in boys' than girls' results on mathematics and reading tests in most OECD countries. Higher variability among boys is a salient feature of reading and mathematics test performance across the world. In almost all comparisons, the age 15 boy-girl variance difference in test scores is present. This difference in variance is higher in countries that have higher levels of test score performance.

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June 14, 2009

Connecticut District Retools High School Math Instruction

Jessica Calefati:

Mathematics teachers in one coastal Connecticut school district were frustrated with students' inability to retain what they learned in Algebra I and apply it to Algebra II, so they decided to approach high school mathematics instruction in a new way. The teachers shrank the number of topics covered in each course by about half and published their custom-made curriculum online last fall, the New York Times reports.

The new curriculum's lessons were written by Westport, Conn., teachers and sent to HeyMath! of India, a company that adds graphics, animation, and sound to the lessons before posting them on the Web. But teachers say the new curriculum is as much about bringing classroom instruction into the digital age as it is about having the opportunity to teach students fewer concepts in greater depth.

Westport's decision to rewrite its math curriculum is part of a growing trend to re-evaluate "mile-wide, inch-deep" instruction. In 2006, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics pushed for more basic math skills instruction, and two years later a federal panel of investigators appointed by then President George W. Bush also urged schools to whittle down their elementary and middle school math curricula.

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June 13, 2009

Wisconsin Math Standards

From a recent post on the Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) listserve:

There is an effort under way to rewrite the Wisconsin math state standards. Comments from the public are invited until this coming Monday (June 15).

Some math professors at UW-Madison believe the draft could use some improvement and encourage folks to review the standards and submit comments via a survey all of which can found at:

Another website with standards that can be used for comparison is: Achieve is one of the organizations that are involved in drafting the
national standards-to-be. The governor has agreed to enroll in the group of States that will align the standards of the state with the national standards the Obama administration is pushing for.

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June 11, 2009

Report From China: "Novels are not taught in class, and teachers encourage outside reading of histories rather than fiction."

Annie Osborn in the Boston Globe:

Teen's lessons from China. I am a product of an American private elementary school and public high school, and I am accustomed to classrooms so boisterous that it can be considered an accomplishment for a teacher to make it through a 45-minute class period without handing out a misdemeanor mark. It's no wonder that the atmosphere at Yanqing No. 1 Middle School ("middle school" is the translation of the Chinese term for high school), for students in grades 10-12, seems stifling to me. Discipline problems are virtually nonexistent, and punishments like lowered test scores are better deterrents for rule breaking than detentions you can sleep through.

But what does surprise me is that, despite the barely controlled chaos that simmers just below the surface during my classes at Boston Latin School, I feel as though I have learned much, much more under the tutelage of Latin's teachers than I ever could at a place like Yanqing Middle School, which is located in a suburb of Beijing called Yanqing.

Students spend their days memorizing and doing individual, silent written drills or oral drills in total unison. Their entire education is geared toward memorizing every single bit of information that could possibly materialize on, first, their high school entrance exams, and next, their college entrance exams. This makes sense, because admission to public high schools and universities in China is based entirely on test scores (although very occasionally a rich family can buy an admission spot for their child), and competition in the world's most populous country to go to the top schools makes the American East Coast's Harvard-or-die mentality look puny.

Chinese students, especially those in large cities or prosperous suburbs and counties and even some in impoverished rural areas, have a more rigorous curriculum than any American student, whether at Charlestown High, Boston Latin, or Exeter. These students work under pressure greater than the vast majority of US students could imagine.

And yet, to an American student used to the freedom of debate during history or English class, to free discussion of possible methods for solving different math problems, the work seems hollow and too directed. The average class size is about 45 students (compared with the limit of 28 in Boston that is exceeded by three or four students at most), which severely limits the amount of attention a teacher can give a student.

It isn't that the curriculum is blatant propaganda, or that the answer to every math problem is Mao Zedong. It's more that there is very little room to maneuver: There is one good way to solve a math problem, or one way to program a computer, or one good way to do homework. Every class has the same homework, a worksheet printed on wafer paper, and essays are rare.• Novels are not taught in class, and teachers encourage outside reading of histories rather than fiction. The only fiction texts read in class are excerpts from the four classics (Imperial texts that are not considered novels) and Imperial poetry. The point of class is to cram as much information into the students in as little time as possible, all in preparation for entrance exams.

Students lack the opportunity to discuss and digest what they learn. Most rarely participate in political discussions outside class. During a weekend dinner at a classmate's house, I brought up the issue of Tibet and heard my classmate's father complain first about how Tibet wanted independence and second about how his daughter didn't know anything about it. The recent Tiananmen anniversary was a nonissue; the students say they are too busy with work to talk much about politics. Chinese high school students therefore have little practice in the decision-making and circumspection that Americans consider an integral part of education.

Chinese schools have many strengths, but they do not foster many broadly philosophical thinkers.

Annie Osborn is a Boston Latin School student. She recently completed her junior year at School Year Abroad in Beijing.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

• [Boston Latin School no longer assigns "traditional" history research papers, they told any case, they have never sent me any...Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review]

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Math & Science: China dominates NSA-backed coding contest

Patrick Thibodeau:

Programmers from China and Russia have dominated an international competition on everything from writing algorithms to designing components.

Whether the outcome of this competition is another sign that math and science education in the U.S. needs improvement may spur debate. But the fact remains: Of 70 finalists, 20 were from China, 10 from Russia and two from the U.S.

TopCoder Inc., which runs software competitions as part of its software development service, operates TopCoder Open, an annual contest.

About 4,200 people participated in the U.S. National Security Agency-supported challenge. The NSA has been sponsoring the program for a number of years because of its interest in hiring people with advanced skills.

Participants in the contest, which was open to anyone -- from student to professional -- and finished with 120 competitors from around the world, went through a process of elimination that finished this month in Las Vegas.

China's showing in the finals was also helped by the sheer volume of its numbers, 894. India followed at 705, but none of its programmers were finalists. Russia had 380 participants; the United States, 234; Poland, 214; Egypt, 145; and Ukraine, 128, among others.

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June 1, 2009

Alternative Teacher Certification Works

UW-Madison professors Peter Hewson and Eric Knuth took up a valid cause in their May 15 guest column when they voiced concerns about having under-prepared teachers in Wisconsin classrooms.

But they're off base in implying that alternative certification programs such as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, proposed in SB 175, will mean more students won't have effective teachers.

Research has shown otherwise.

A recent study in "Education Next" showed states with genuine alternative certification programs see higher test scores and more minority teachers. A Brookings Institute study from 2006 showed that teachers who have come through colleges of education are no more effective than teachers who come through an alternative certification program or no certification program at all.

In addition, ABCTE's rigorous teacher preparation program includes nearly 200 hours of workshops on topics such as pedagogy and classroom assessment. Our exams are difficult, with only 40 percent of candidates passing on the first try. As a result, our teacher retention rate is 85 percent after three years, compared to less than 65 percent for traditional certification routes.

I understand Hewson and Knuth's motivation for suggesting that an alternative to traditional certification may not produce great teachers. That philosophy is good for their employer, but not -- as research has shown -- any better for students.

/-- David Saba, president, ABCTE, Washington, D.C./

Posted by Janet Mertz at 6:34 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Mathematician's Lament

Sara Bennett:

One of the most eye-opening pieces of writing I've ever read is A Mathematician's Lament" How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form by Paul Lockhart. I've known Paul since our sons met when they were about eight years old, and I was so happy to hear that his essay (called a "gorgeous essay" by the Los Angeles Times) was printed in paperback form. This book belongs on everyone's bookshelf.

Here's how it begins:

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. "We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world." Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made--all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the "language of music." It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.

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May 31, 2009

An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria

Thanks much for taking the time from your busy schedule to respond to our letter below.  I am delighted to note your serious interest in the topic of how to obtain middle school teachers who are highly qualified to teach mathematics to the MMSD's students so that all might succeed.  We are all in agreement with the District's laudable goal of having all students complete algebra I/geometry or integrated algebra I/geometry by the end of 10th grade.  One essential component necessary for achieving this goal is having teachers who are highly competent to teach 6th- through 8th-grade mathematics to our students so they will be well prepared for high school-level mathematics when they arrive in high school.

The primary point on which we seem to disagree is how best to obtain such highly qualified middle school math teachers.  It is my strong belief that the MMSD will never succeed in fully staffing all of our middle schools with excellent math teachers, especially in a timely manner, if the primary mechanism for doing so is to provide additional, voluntary math ed opportunities to the District's K-8 generalists who are currently teaching mathematics in our middle schools.  The District currently has a small number of math-certified middle school teachers.  It undoubtedly has some additional K-8 generalists who already are or could readily become terrific middle school math teachers with a couple of hundred hours of additional math ed training.  However, I sincerely doubt we could ever train dozens of additional K-8 generalists to the level of content knowledge necessary to be outstanding middle school math teachers so that ALL of our middle school students could be taught mathematics by such teachers.

Part of our disagreement centers around differing views regarding the math content knowledge one needs to be a highly-qualified middle school math teacher.  As a scientist married to a mathematician, I don't believe that taking a couple of math ed courses on how to teach the content of middle school mathematics provides sufficient knowledge of mathematics to be a truly effective teacher of the subject.  Our middle school foreign language teachers didn't simply take a couple of ed courses in how to teach their subject at the middle school level; rather, most of them also MAJORED or, at least, minored in the subject in college.  Why aren't we requiring the same breathe and depth of content knowledge for our middle school mathematics teachers?  Do you really believe mastery of the middle school mathematics curriculum and how to teach it is sufficient content knowledge for teachers teaching math?  What happens when students ask questions that aren't answered in the teachers' manual?  What happens when students desire to know how the material they are studying relates to higher-level mathematics and other subjects such as science and engineering?

The MMSD has been waiting a long time already to have math-qualified teachers teaching mathematics in our middle schools.   Many countries around the world whose students outperform US students in mathematics only hire teachers who majored in the  subject to teach it.  Other school districts in the US are taking advantage of the current recession with high unemployment to hire and train people who know and love mathematics, but don't yet know how to teach it to others.  For example, see

If Madison continues to wait, we will miss out on this opportunity and yet another generation of middle schoolers will be struggling to success in high school.

The MMSD has a long history of taking many, many year to resolve most issues.  For example, the issue of students receiving high school credit for non-MMSD courses has been waiting 8 years and counting!  It has taken multiple years for the District's math task force to be formed, meet, write its report, and have its recommendations discussed.  For the sake of the District's students, we need many more math-qualified middle school teachers NOW.  Please act ASAP, giving serious consideration to our proposal below.  Thanks.

Posted by Janet Mertz at 11:59 AM | Comments (20) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 28, 2009

Superintendent Dan Nerad's Response to "Action Needed, Please Sign on.... Math Teacher Hiring in the Madison School District"

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad via email:

Dr. Mertz-

Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding this critical issue in our middle schools. We will continue to follow the conversation and legislative process regarding hiring Teach for America and Math for America candidates. We have similar concerns to those laid out by UW Professors Hewson and Knuth ( In particular they stated, "Although subject-matter knowledge is essential to good teaching, the knowledge required for teaching is significantly different from that used by math and science professionals." This may mean that this will not be a cost effective or efficient solution to a more complex problem than many believe it to be. These candidates very well may need the same professional learning opportunities that we are working with the UW to create for our current staff. The leading researchers on this topic are Ball, Bass and Hill from the University of Michigan. More information on their work can be found at ( We are committed to improving the experience our students have in our mathematics class and will strive to hire the most qualified teachers and continue to strengthen our existing staff.

Dan Nerad

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May 26, 2009

MathTime: Hinsdale kids design math app for iPhone

Mick Swasko:

You might think of flash cards and work sheets when you think of grade-school math. But now, thanks to two young brothers from Hinsdale, there's an app for that.

Eleven-year-old Owen Voorhees' iPhone application, MathTime, debuted in the iTunes App Store last week. The simple program, which displays random addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems and their solutions, has been a work in progress for nearly nine months.

"I hope it helps people practice their facts," Owen said, explaining that the application is intended for students a bit younger than himself, such as brother Finn, 9.

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May 25, 2009

A Look At Maryland's High School Assessment Test

Nelson Hernandez:

When Maryland's high school class of 2009 graduates next month, it will become the first in the state to prove it can solve an equation such as 12x + 84 =252. (Answer: 14.)

But state officials still don't know the value of another variable: the number of students who won't pass exams in algebra, English, biology and government for a new graduation requirement. As of March, about 4,000 of 58,000 seniors statewide hadn't passed the High School Assessments or met an alternative academic standard. This is the first year that seniors have been required to meet the testing standard.

State and local officials predict that graduation rates will remain roughly the same and that only a handful of seniors will be denied a diploma based on the HSA requirement.

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May 23, 2009

Hiring Math Teachers...... Former Bear Stearns Trader is Now Teaching High School Math on Long Island, NY

Peter Robison pens an interesting look at the current opportunity to hire teachers with a strong math background, advocated locally by Janet Mertz & Gabi Meyer:

After Irace got his termination papers in June from JPMorgan Chase, he called "Brother K."

Brother Kenneth Hoagland, the principal at Kellenberg, a private Catholic institution, taught Irace at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York.

Hoagland called Irace in for an interview in August, when he needed a replacement for a math instructor on leave. A month later, the former trader was teaching quadratic equations and factoring to freshmen in five 40-minute periods of algebra a day. He enrolled in refresher math classes at Nassau Community College, sometimes learning subjects a day or two ahead of the kids. This semester, he's teaching sixth-graders measurements and percentages.

Conditioning Drills

Seated at wooden desks, 21 to 39 in each class, they get excited when he flashes the animated math adventures of a robot named Moby onto a classroom projector. After school, Irace, now 198 pounds (90 kilograms), puts a whistle on a yellow cord around his neck and runs girls through conditioning drills as an assistant coach for the lacrosse team. The extra coaching stipend runs $1,000 to $2,000 for the season.

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Wisconsin bill to boost math and science teachers risky for students

Peter Hewson & Eric Knuth:

While this legislation is well-intentioned, it will ultimately do more harm than good -- and it is the children in the most troubled schools who will pay the price.

Here's why: SB 175 is intended to attract math and science professionals (engineers and scientists) into teaching, based on the belief that they have the necessary subject-matter knowledge. The bill would allow them to get teaching licenses almost entirely on the basis of written tests (a math test, for example), as long as they receive some loosely specified form of mentoring during their first year on the job.

There's nothing wrong with using written tests, and mentoring new teachers is a great idea. But neither is sufficient to protect children from dangerously under-prepared teachers.

Although subject-matter knowledge is essential to good teaching, the knowledge required for teaching is significantly different from that used by math and science professionals. A well-constructed certification program gives beginning teachers a crucial knowledge base (of math or science as well as about teaching) and helps them develop the skills and practices that bring this knowledge to life.

There's a reason that so many certification programs immerse new teachers in classroom tasks gradually: It gives them a chance to make their mistakes and sharpen their skills in more controlled, lower-stakes contexts before handing them primary responsibility for a classroom of students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:44 AM | Comments (2) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 20, 2009

The disinformation campaign about U.S. schools

Walt Gardner:

Repetition doesn't make something true. The latest reminder was a piece by Financial Times columnist Clive Crook, in which he warns that America's long-term economic prospects are bleak because of a "calamitous" failure of schools to produce a high-quality workforce. This alarmist view is not limited to Crook. It has been echoed by Bill Gates and philanthropist Eli Broad, and by a host of organizations, such as the Business Roundtable.


Should job creation favor men? 05.19.09
Now is the time for right-to-repair law 05.18.09
Open forum: Journalism students lead way 05.16.09
More Open Forum »
It's easy to understand why people take at face value what reformers with impressive credentials say about education. They can be intimidating. But that's no excuse. As a wag quipped: In God we trust, all others bring evidence.

So let's look at the evidence.

In October 2007, B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University and Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute concluded that the United States has a problem on the demand side of the equation - not on the supply side. This crucial distinction is lost in the heated debate, resulting in widespread misunderstanding.

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May 17, 2009

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."

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Teaching Arts and Sciences Together

Mae Jemison:

ae Jemison is an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector, a dancer ... Telling stories from her own education and from her time in space, she calls on educators to teach both the arts and sciences, both intuition and logic, as one -- to create bold thinker.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 15, 2009

Third Grade Mathematics in Hong Kong and Massachusetts
Why Massachusetts Students, the Best in the U.S., Lag Behind Best-in-the-World Students of Hong Kong

Steven Leinwand, American Institutes for Research and Alan Ginsburg, US Department of Education [2.5MB PDF] via a kind reader's email:
Higher expectations for achievement and greater exposure to more difficult and complex mathematics are among the major difference between Hong Kong, home of the world’s top-performing 4th grade math students, and Massachusetts, which is the highest scoring state on the U.S. National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), according to a report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

While Massachusetts 4th grade students achieved a respectable fourth place when compared with countries taking the 2007 Grade 4 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS-4), Hong Kong students outperformed the Bay State 4th graders in numerous categories.

The Hong Kong performance advantage over Massachusetts was especially large in the percentage of its students achieving at the very highest level. For example, 40 percent of Hong Kong students achieved at the advanced TIMSS level, compared with only 22 percent of Massachusetts students.

To help understand why Hong Kong students outperform Massachusetts students, the AIR study identified differences between the items on Hong Kong’s and Massachusetts’ internal mathematics assessments administered in the spring of grade 3 in 2007 to gather insight into the relative mathematical expectations in Hong Kong and Massachusetts.

The AIR report found that the Hong Kong assessment contained more difficult items, especially in the core areas of numbers and measurement, than the Massachusetts assessment.

“The more rigorous problems on the Hong Kong assessment demonstrate that, even at Grade 3, deep conceptual understanding and the capacity to apply foundational mathematical concepts in multistep, real-world situations can be taught successfully,” said Steven Leinwand, Principal Research Analyst at AIR and co-author of the report.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:11 AM | Comments (6) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 14, 2009

Action Needed, Please Sign on.... Math Teacher Hiring in the Madison School District

via a kind reader's email: Janet Mertz and Gabi Meyer have written a letter about new math hires that they would like you to sign on to. Please send your name, your school(s), and any relevant identifying information or affiliation to:
Dear Superintendent Nerad and members of the Board of Education:

To address as quickly as possible the MMSD's need for more middle school teachers with outstanding content knowledge of mathematics, we, the undersigned, urge you to consider filling any vacancies that occur in the District's middle schools for the coming academic year with applicants who majored in the mathematical sciences or related fields (e.g., statistics, computer science, physics) in college, but may be currently deficient in teaching pedagogy. You might advertise nationally in appropriate places that applications from such candidates would be welcome. In recent years, many outstanding graduates with such backgrounds went into the computing, consulting, and financial industries. However, in the current economic climate, such jobs are much less available, especially to new college graduates. Thus, jobs in the teaching profession may be viewed much more favorably now by folks trained in the mathematical sciences despite the significantly lower salary. One indication of this is the fact that applications to Teach for America were up 42% this year. Teach for America had to reject over 30,000 applicants this spring, including hundreds of graduates from UW-Madison, due to the limited numbers they can train and place. Undoubtedly, some of these applicants were math majors who would be happy to live in Madison. Math for America, a similar program that only accepts people who majored in the mathematical sciences, likely also had to turn away large numbers of outstanding applicants. Possibly, the MMSD could contact Teach for America and Math for America inquiring whether there might be a mechanism by which your advertisement for middle school math teachers could be forwarded to some of the best of their rejects. As these programs do, the MMSD could provide these new hires with a crash course in teaching pedagogy over the summer before they commence work in the fall. They could be hired conditionally subject to completing all of the requirements for state teacher certification within 2 years and a commitment to teach in the MMSD for at least 3-5 years.

While the District's proposal to provide additional content knowledge to dozens of its current middle school teachers of mathematics might gradually improve the delivery of mathematics to the District's students, it would take numerous years to implement, involve considerable additional expense, and may still not totally solve the long-term need for math-qualified teachers, especially in view of the continuing wave of retirements. The coincidence of baby boomer retirements with the current severe economic recession provides a rare opportunity to fill our middle schools now with outstanding mathematics teachers for decades to come, doing so at much lower cost to the District since one would be hiring new, B.A.-level teachers rather than retraining experienced, M.A.-level ones. Thus, we urge you to act on this proposal within the next few weeks, in possible.

Ed Hughes comments over at Madison United for Academic Excellence:
It is interesting to note that state law provides that "A school board that employs a person who holds a professional teaching permit shall ensure that no regularly licensed teacher is removed from his or her position as a result of the employment of persons holding permits."
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May 10, 2009

What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement?

James Wollack & Michael Fish [280K PDF], via a kind reader's email UW Center for Placement Testing [Link to Papers]:

Major Findings:
  • CORE-Plus students performed significantly less well on math placement test and ACT-M than did traditional students
  • Change in performance was observed immediately after switch
  • Score trends throughout CORE-Plus years actually decreased slightly - Inconsistent with a teacher learning-curve hypothesis
  • CORE-AP students fared much better, but not as well as the traditional - AP students - Both sample sizes were low

Related:[280K PDF Complete Presentation]

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China's boxed itself in
Its emphasis on math and science has certainly fueled its rapid economic growth, but its lack of creative thinking could rob it of an innovative edge.

Randy Pollock:

Which country -- the United States or China -- will make the 21st century its own?

When President Obama recently called for American young people "to be makers of things" and focus on subjects such as science and engineering, it was partly a nod to China's rapid growth. Had he lived, taught and consulted in China for the last 33 months, as I have, he might have urged American students first to follow his example and study the liberal arts. Only technical knowledge complemented by well-honed critical and creative thinking skills can help us regain our innovative edge. China's traditional lack of emphasis on teaching these skills could undermine its efforts to develop its own innovative economy.

I once challenged my Chinese MBA students to brainstorm "two-hour business plans." I divided them into six groups, gave them detailed instructions and an example: a restaurant chain. The more original their idea, the better, I stressed -- and we'd vote for a prize winner. The word "prize" energized the room. Laptops flew open. Fingers pounded. Voices roared. Packs of cookies were ripped open and shared. Not a single person text-messaged. I'd touched a nerve.

In the end, five of the six groups presented plans for, you guessed it, restaurant chains. The sixth proposed a catering service. Why risk a unique solution when the instructor has let it slip he likes the food business?

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May 9, 2009

Education Critic to Obama: Tell the Truth

Jay Matthews:

If there was any doubt that education analyst Gerald W. Bracey doesn't play favorites, that's gone now. After excoriating the Bush administration and its education officials for eight years, after canvassing his neighborhood, donating his own money and voting for Barack Obama for president, Bracey is giving the new president just what he gave the old one -- unrelenting grief.

In a speech to the American Educational Research Association in San Diego last month on "countering the fearmongers about American public schools," Bracey added to his list of non-truthtellers President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "Obama and Duncan seem to be following the long-established line that you can get away with saying just about anything you choose about public schools and no one will call you on it," Bracey said. "People will believe anything you say about public education as long as it's bad."

Bracey and I disagree on many issues, but I have long been one of his most appreciative readers, dating back to the days when I knew him only as a sharp-witted writer whose pieces occasionally appeared in The Washington Post's Outlook section. When I came back to Washington to cover local schools, I introduced myself to Bracey, who was then living in Northern Virginia, and wrote a piece about him and his long battle to persuade policymakers, political candidates and journalists to stop exaggerating our educational problems to win themselves appropriations, votes and attention. He lost at least one job because of his writing. Instead of using his doctorate in educational psychology to get a cushy university or think tank job, he has devoted his life to setting us straight, in his less financially secure role as freelance writer, author and speaker.

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May 5, 2009

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.
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May 1, 2009

Giving Kids a Jump on Technology Innovative Mitchellville Shows Off Its Success

Ovetta Wiggins:

You could see the pride in third-grader Kuron Anderson's eyes as he jumped from his tiny chair to talk about his technology project. He called it "The Many Faces of the Man," a digital photo mosaic that he created to celebrate the election of President Obama.

"I worked hard on it, and I did my best," Kuron said.

He then methodically explained how he used about 1,000 pictures to create his project for the first science and technology fair last month at the Mitchellville School of Math, Science and Technology in Bowie.

"This is the before picture," the 8-year-old said, pointing to the cutout on the cardboard display. "And if you step back, you will see his face on the computer. It is made up of cell images."

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April 30, 2009

Pass bill to boost science, math teachers Pass bill to boost science, math teachers

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial
: Public schools across Wisconsin expect a critical shortage of math and science teachers in the next few years. Supply is not keeping up with demand.

That's why the Legislature should approve Senate Bill 175. This sensible proposal would lure more math and science professionals into classrooms by creating a shorter and less expensive route to a teaching license for anyone with a college degree.

SB 175 also could attract more black men into the teaching profession to serve as role models in urban schools -- a key selling point for Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee, who is part of a bipartisan group of sponsors.
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The Boston Globe has been publishing for 137 years, and the news that it may have to fold has distressed its many readers. Each Fall, Winter and Spring the paper publishes a special section, of 14 pages or so, on notable local public high school athletes and their coaches. There is a mention of athletes and coaches at local prep schools as well.

The latest Boston Globe's Winter "ALL-SCHOLASTICS" section arrived, with the "ten moments that stood out among the countless athletic stories in Massachusetts." There are reports on the best athletes and coaches in Skiing, Boys' Basketball, Girls' Basketball, Boys' Hockey, Girls' Hockey, Boys' Track, Girls' Track, Boys' Swimming, Girls' Swimming, Preps, Wrestling, and Gymnastics. The Preps and Gymnastics parts consolidate boys' and girls' accomplishments, perhaps to save space (and cost).

Each full-page section also features photographs of 9-16 athletes, with perhaps a twitter-sized paragraph on their achievements. In addition, there are 30 photos and tweets about some coaches, spread among the various sports. There are 26 "Prep" athletes mentioned, from various sports, but I didn't see any "Prep" coaches profiled. For each high school sport there are two "athletes of the year" identified, and all the coaches are "coaches of the year" in their sport.

There may be, at this time, some high school "students of the year" in English, math, Chinese, physics, Latin, chemistry, European history, U.S. history, biology, and the like. There may also be high school "teachers of the year" in these and other academic subjects, but their names and descriptions are not to be found in The Boston Globe, perhaps the most well-known paper in the "Athens of America" (Boston).

It may be the case, indeed it probably is the case, that some of the athletes featured in the Winter "All-Scholastics" section today are also high school students of math, history, English, science, and languages, but you would not know that from the coverage of The Boston Globe. The coaches of the year may in many, if not all, cases, also be teachers of academic subjects in the Massachusetts public and private schools, but that remains only a guess as well.

When the British architect Christopher Wren was buried in 1723, part of his epitaph, written by his eldest son, Christopher Wren, Jr., read: "Lector, si monumentum requiris, Circumspice." If you wanted to judge his interest, efforts and accomplishments, all you had to do was look around you. His work was there for all to see.

The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.

If one seeks a monument to anti-academic and anti-intellectual views and practices in Boston today, one need look no further than The Boston Globe. I read it every day, and I will be sorry to see it fold, if it does, but I will not miss its attention to and recognition of the academic efforts and accomplishments of Massachusetts secondary students and their teachers, because there is none now, and never has been any, no matter how many reports on education reform and academic standards it may have published over the years. If you ask how much The Boston Globe editors (and I am sure The Globe is not alone in this) cares about the good academic work now actually being done by high school teachers and their students in Massachusetts, the answer is, from the evidence, that they do not.

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April 29, 2009

WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison's Advanced Students

For many years now, parents and community members, including members of Madison United for Academic Excellence, have expressed concerns about the decline in rigor and the lack of adequate challenge in our district's curriculum. The release this week of WKCE scores for the November 2008 testing led me to wonder about the performance of our district's strongest students. While most analyses of WKCE scores focus on the percentages of students scoring at the Advanced and Proficient levels, these numbers do not tell us about changes in the percent of students at each particular level of performance. We can have large increases in the percent of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels because we have improved the performance of students who were previously at the Basic level on the WKCE, but yet fail to have any effect on the performance of our district's strongest students. This is the argument that we are improving the performance of our low ability students, but failing to increase the performance of our already successful students. An examination of the numbers of students who are performing at just the Advanced level on the WKCE provides us with some insight into the academic progress of our more successful students.

I decided to examine WKCE math scores for students across the district. While it is not possible to track the performance of individual students, it is possible to follow the performance of a cohort as they advance through the system. Thus students who are now in 10th grade, took the 8th grade WKCE in 2006 and the 4th grade test in 2002. Because there have been significant changes in the demographics of the district's students, I split the data by socio-economic status to remove the possibility of declines in WKCE performance simply being the result of increased numbers of low income students. Although the WKCE has been criticized for not being a rigorous enough assessment tool, the data on our students' math performance are not encouraging. The figures below indicate that the percent of students scoring at the Advanced level on the WKCE decreases as students progress through the system, and this decline is seen in both our low income students and in our Not Economically Disadvantaged students. The figures suggest that while there is some growth in the percent of Advanced performing students in elementary school, there is a significant decline in performance once students begin taking math in our middle schools and this decline continues through high school. I confess that I take no pleasure in sharing this data; in fact, it makes me sick.

Because it might be more useful to examine actual numbers, I have provided tables showing the data used in the figures above. Reading across a row shows the percent of students in a class cohort scoring at the Advanced level as they have taken the WKCE test as they progressed from grades 3 - 10.

Percent of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

Percent of Not Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

While it could be argued that the declining percentage of low income students scoring in the advanced range on the WKCE are simply the result of a relatively stable number of Advanced ability students in this group becoming a smaller and smaller percentage as the overall numbers of economically disadvantaged students increases, an examination of actual numbers reveal an absolute decline in the number of low income students scoring at the Advanced level on the Math portion of the WKCE.

Numbers of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring Advanced on the Math WKCE Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

In the interest of thoroughness, I am providing enrollment numbers for the Not Economically Disadvantaged students in the MMSD over this period of time. Readers will see that the absolute numbers of Not Disadvantaged students have declined over the past seven years; this simply confirms what we already know (the increase in numbers from 8th to 10th grade reflect the influx of 9th grade students who have attended private schools for their K-8 education, e.g., Blessed Sacrament and Queen of Peace in the West attendance area).

Numbers of Not Economically Disadvantaged Students Enrolled Across Different Grade Levels in the Madison Schools and Taking the WKCE between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade

Because the percent of students in this group scoring at the Advanced level has declined as well, there are two possible explanations for what has been happening. One explanation is that the district has had a relatively larger decline in enrollments of high ability students amongst this group of Not Disadvantaged students, what is often referred to as "Bright Flight". A more probably explanation is that the math curriculum, particularly in our middle schools and in 9th grade, does not adequately challenge our students and foster their intellectual growth regardless of their socio-economic background, and of course, it is possible that both of these factors are contributing to what we see here.

I should note that I have only examined the math data, and I don't know if the WKCE data for the other subject areas is as dismal. This would seem like an analysis that the District should be doing on a regular basis, but I encourage anyone who is interested to explore the performance of our students in reading or language arts. I also do not know the extent to which the Madison data merely reflects a similar decline in performance across the state. The members of the UW Math faculty that I have talked with in the past have expressed their concerns about the overall level of preparation from Wisconsin students, and our district's data may simply be a confirmation of the failure of currently popular constructionist approaches to adequately teach mathematical concepts. The statewide data is certainly worth exploring as well, and again I invited interested parties to visit the Department of Public Instruction WINNS website and download their own copy of the data.

I will say again that I find these data to be incredibly demoralizing, but perhaps we can take hope that our new superintendent and our School Board will use these data as a rallying point as they finalize a strategic plan and consider the recommendations of the Math Task Force. We have to find ways to raise the performance of all our district's students, and right now it appears we aren't meeting anyone's academic needs.

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April 27, 2009

Angling for attention: Teacher devised board game to make geometry fun

Samara Kalk Derby:

Chris Dyer's students want to know if, when he becomes rich and famous, he'll let them swim in his pool.

Dyer, an eighth-grade math teacher at Cherokee Middle School on Madison's west side, developed a board game while student teaching at the school that was picked up by an international educational products manufacturer and has now sold more than 2,000 copies.

The game, Angleside School Adventure, teaches kids how to measure angles. While learning to play the game in class one recent afternoon, student Oscar Hernandez, 14, wondered aloud whether Dyer is a millionaire yet. Dyer laughed and assured his students that, if he becomes a millionaire, he'll still be teaching them.

Many of Dyer's students say he is the best math teacher they've had.

"He's pretty good at explaining things to people who don't know," said 13-year-old Allison Ballard. "And for the people who do know, he just lets them go ahead."

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April 25, 2009

The "Most Failed" College Math Course: Math 111

Shanna Woodruff:

s there any hope for college algebra?

Math 111 has been rumored throughout campus to be one of the most failed classes at Oregon State. Many students go into class with that expectation.

"I heard from everyone that I talked to about Math 111, that it was the number one failed class in the university, so I got in the mindset that I was going to fail, and I did," said Mark Stockhoff, a freshman in new media communications and business.

The issues relating to this rumor may be caused by the math placement test, poor math education before college, class size and student effort put into the class.

"We have a placement test, which we ask folks to take, and up until last year, only about 50 percent of entering freshmen placed into a college math course," said Math 111 instructor Peter Argyres.

To address the poor scores, the math department worked to create an online test that wasn't proctored to allow students to take the test in an easier environment and time frame, but the jump in scores was so significant that it was determined students had cheated on the math test.

Joanne has more.

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April 23, 2009

Seattle School Board Delays New Math Program

Nick Eaton:
Divided on whether to adopt a recommended new high school textbook program Wednesday, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors postponed voting on the issue until next month.

The reason? The attending directors, indicating how they planned to vote, split 3-3 on Wednesday. Director Cheryl Chow, who was absent while traveling, could be the tie-breaker at the board's May 6 meeting.

"This is one of the few times when we have the opportunity to change the direction when it comes to the school district's instruction," board President Michael DeBell said.

No official vote took place, but DeBell said he planned to vote against the math-adoption motion.

Up for approval was a policy that would overhaul the Seattle school district's math program by adopting new textbooks, standardizing its curriculum and renaming its classes. The Integrated Math 2 classes, for example, would become Advanced Algebra, said Anna-Maria de la Fuente, the district's K-12 mathematics program coordinator.

A Seattle Public Schools math committee, after about six months of investigation and debate, recommended a textbook program called Discovering Mathematics for all of the district's math classes, except for statistics.
Much more on math here.
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April 20, 2009

Madison School Board Rejects Teaching & Learning Expansion; an Interesting Discussion

One of the most interesting things I've observed in my years of local school interaction is the extensive amount of pedagogical and content development that taxpayers fund within the Madison School District. I've always found this unusual, given the proximity of the University of Wisconsin, MATC and Edgewood College, among other, nearby Institutions of Higher Education.

The recent Math Task Force, a process set in motion by several school board elections, has succeeded in bringing more attention to the District's math curriculum. Math rigor has long been a simmering issue, as evidenced by this April, 2004 letter from West High School Math Teachers to Isthmus:
Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator's office to phase out our "accelerated" course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined "success" as merely producing "fewer failures." Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?
The fact the Madison's Teaching & Learning Department did not get what they want tonight is significant, perhaps the first time this has ever happened with respect to Math. I appreciate and am proud of the Madison School Board's willingness to consider and discuss these important issues. Each Board member offered comments on this matter including: Lucy Mathiak, who pointed out that it would be far less expensive to simply take courses at the UW-Madison (about 1000 for three credits plus books) than spend $150K annually in Teaching & Learning. Marj Passman noted that the Math Task Force report emphasized content knowledge improvement and that is where the focus should be while Maya Cole noted that teacher participation is voluntary. Voluntary participation is a problem, as we've seen with the deployment of an online grading and scheduling system for teachers, students and parents.

Much more on math here, including a 2006 Forum (audio / video).

Several years ago, the late Ted Widerski introduced himself at an event. He mentioned that he learned something every week from this site and the weekly eNewsletter. I was (and am) surprised at Ted's comments. I asked if the MMSD had an internal "Knowledge Network", like, but oriented around curriculum for teachers? "No".

It would seem that, given the tremendous local and online resources available today, Teaching & Learning's sole reason for existence should be to organize and communicate information and opportunities for our teaching staff via the web, email, sms, videoconference, blogs, newsletters and the like. There is certainly no need to spend money on curriculum creation.

"Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."

Listen to tonight's nearly 50 minute Madison School Board math discussion via this 22MB mp3 audio file.
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Gabriele Meyer on the Madison School District's Math Program

University of Wisconsin-Madison math lecturer Gabriele Meyer advocates the use of Singapore math in this 3 minute mp3 audio file. Much more on Madison's math program here.

Related: the politics (and spin) of calculator use.
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April 19, 2009

Response to the Madison School District's Math Task Force Recommendations


There are a number of points in the Summary of Administrative Response to MMSD Mathematics Task Force Recommendations which should be made. As a mathematician, let me just comment on comments on Recommendation 11. There are other comments which could be made, but I have a limited amount of time at present.

The first question I have is in the first paragraph. "One aspect of the balanced approach is represented in the four block approach to structuring mathematics lessons. The four blocks include Problem Solving, Number Work, Fluency and Maintenance and Inspecting Equations." There is a missing comma, since it is not clear whether Maintenance goes with the previous word or the last two. However, in either case, "Inspecting Equations" is a strange phrase to use. I am not sure what it means, and when a mathematician who has read extensively in school mathematics does not understand a phrase, something is wrong. You might ask Brian Sniff, who seems to have written this report based on one comment he made at the Monday meeting, what he means by this.

In the next paragraph, there are the following statements about the math program used in MMSD. "The new edition [of Connected Math Project] includes a greater emphasis on practice problems similar to those in traditional middle and high school textbooks. The new edition still remains focused on problem-centered instruction that promotes deep conceptual understanding." First, I dislike inflated language. It usually is an illustration of a lack of knowledge. We cannot hope for "deep conceptual understanding", in school mathematics, and Connected Math falls far short of what we want students to learn and understand in many ways. There are many examples which could be given and a few are mentioned in a letter I sent to the chair of a committee which gave an award to two of the developers of Connected Mathematics Project. Much of my letter to Phil Daro is given below.

The final paragraph for Recommendation 11 deals with high school mathematics. When asked about the state standards, Brian Sniff remarked that they were being rewritten, but that the changes seem to be minimal. He is on the high school rewrite committee, and I hope he is incorrect about the changes since significant changes should be made. We now have a serious report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel which was asked to report on algebra. In addition to comments on what is needed to prepare students for algebra, which should have an impact on both elementary and middle school mathematics, there is a good description of what algebra in high school should contain. Some of the books used in MMSD do not have the needed algebra. In addition, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has published Curriculum Focal Points for grades PK-8 which should be used for further details in these grades. Neither of these reports was mentioned in the response you were sent.

I have pointed out errors and omissions in Connected Mathematics and Discovering Advanced Algebra to Sniff, and suggested that teachers be informed about these problems and given suggestions for how to work around them. You might ask him what has been sent to teachers about rational numbers and repeating decimals in Connected Math and the geometric series in Discovering Advanced Algebra. I wrote the principal author of Connected Math about their treatment of repeating decimals in the first edition, in 2000 and 2002. Nothing was changed in the second version. It is still a very poor treatment. I will send separately a paper I gave at a meeting in Lisbon last November. It deals with the help teachers should be given, and how inadequate it frequently is.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel recommended that the geometric series should be done in first year algebra, since it is not hard to derive the sum of a finite geometric series and it has many interesting applications. In Discovering Advanced Geometry, the sum of this series is stated but not derived. What understanding is this giving students?

There never has been a serious public discussion about the direction of mathematics education in the Madison Schools. There should be. There was a committee set up to report and the part which surprised me most was the survey of elementary school teachers, who reported that most of them did not use a textbook as a primary resource. Decades ago my daughter went through a year at Cherokee with a teacher developed program in math. It was a disaster. I wonder about the results mentioned in a Capital Times article on the charter school Nuestro Mundo. Here are the result on WKCE Third Grade tests.

Percentage scoring proficient or advanced in reading

Nuestro Mundo707446
Madison School District728847

Percentage scoring proficient or advanced in math

Nuestro Mundo496315
Madison School District728752

Both the reading and math tests were given in English. In every other study I have seen about schools like Nuestro Mundo, the math score relative to the district score is much closer than the reading score is to the district average. Does the math staff at MMSD have an explanation for this dramatic difference?

Here is most of my letter to Phil Daro mentioned above. If you have any questions about what I have written, please feel free to contact me. My phone number is 233-7900.

Richard Askey

Recently I read the announcement of the prizes awarded by ISDDE. The Connected Math award singled out two of their books. The 8th grade book, "Say It With Symbols", had the following written about it:

Say It With Symbols tackles the development of robust fluency in symbolic manipulation (always a high priority) by focusing on "making sense with symbols" at every stage. Work on interpreting symbolic expressions leads on to creating equivalent expressions and thus to sense-making solution of linear and quadratic equations, and to modeling.

Let us look at a little of this book. There is some work on factoring quadratics, but clearly not enough for students to become fluent with it. The quadratic formula is stated but not proven, nor is there a proof (much less a motivated one) in the Teacher's Guide. Completing the square is never mentioned. There are a couple of problems like the following: Page 51 in Second Edition. [I can give comments on the First Edition if that is what you used, but I am giving them a break and using the Second. It has been through even more use than the first, but still has a lot of flaws.]

44. You can write quadratic expressions in factored and expanded forms. Which form would you use for each of the following? Explain. c. To find the line of symmetry for a quadratic relationship Answer: The line of symmetry is a vertical line perpendicular to the x-axis through a point with an x-coordinate half way between the x-intercepts. The factored form can be used to find this point. How about the case when the factors are not real? y=x^2+2x+2. There is still a line of symmetry, but without complex numbers, which few will treat in eighth grade, factoring does not work. Of course one can make it work by subtracting a constant, but this is a book for students who are just learning algebra. Whenever the word "Explain" is used in a question, I look to see what the explanation is. There is no reason given for why half way between the intercepts gives the line of symmetry. A explanation can be given using either form, but the authors do not do this. I can give you many examples where the "Explain" answer in the Teacher's Guide is far from an explanation, and sometimes is wrong.

Part d asks how to find the coordinates of the maximum or minimum point for a quadratic relationship. Here completing the square is clearly the better method at this stage, if one is aiming for the very important goal of fluency in symbolic manipulation, but that is not their goal. They seemingly never make the vital step of changing variables in an expression. There were many places where this could have been introduced and then used to give mathematical closure at the level they deal with, but it is not there.

Let us skip to the end of this book. There is an introduction to tests for divisibility in problem 9 on page 77 and problem 10 on the same page for divisibility by 2 and 4. The answers in the Teacher's Guide are reasonable. Then in problem 41 the problem of divisibility by 3 is considered. The answer pulls out the idea of changing 100a + 10b + c to 99a + a + 9b + b + c and then writes this to get the usual criteria. What is missing is an explanation for why one does this. One looks for the closest numbers to 100 and to 10 which can be divided by 3, which mimics the argument in divisibility by 2 and 4. The teachers will not know this, nor know that this can be extended to divisibility by 11 by a similar argument, although unlike the case of 3 and 9, the step from 11 to 99 to 1001 is only easy for 11 and 99. Before seeing how this extends one cannot just divide 1001 by 11, but write 1001 as 990 + 11. This extends. This is what should be in the Teacher's Guide. One recommendation from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is that instruction should not be either entirely "student-centered" or "teacher-directed". The problem should have been given with some explanation about how divisibility by 2, 4, and 5 works, and then after remarking that divisibility by 3 cannot come from just looking at the last digit, ask the students to figure out what the closest number to 10 is which is divisible by 3, and then the closest number to 100 which is divisible by 3, and to use this information to try to find a simple test for divisibility by 3.

Let us consider the last problem. Judy thinks she knows a quick way to square any number whose last digit is 5. (Example 25) Look at the digit to the left of 5. Multiply it by the number that is one greater than this number. (example 2*3=6) Write the product followed by 25. This is the square of the number. Try this squaring method on two other numbers that end in 5. Explain why this method works. [Explanation: Students may find it easiest to explain why this method works by forming an equation [sic] to represent the value of any number ending in five, such as (10x+5), where x can be any whole number. Then a student taking the square of this value they [sic] will get (10x+5)(10x+5)=100x^2+100x+25)=100. [The 100 is only part of what should be there. It should be 100x(x+1) + 25.] This equation represents Judy's method of finding the square. [The word "equation" is wrong. They mean "expression".]

If they are going to let x be any whole number, then Judy's method is wrong, since she said to look at the digit to the left of 5, and multiply it by the number that is one greater than this number. So 125^2 would be the same as 25^2, or with careless reading, the same as 2*13 with 25 appended. This is not symbolic fluency in the textbook.

The next to the last problem dealt with divisibility by 6, and the correct statement is given in the Teacher's Guide, but the argument pulls out heavy machinery in the form of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra when it is not needed. However, the related problem of assuming that a number is divisible by 2 and by 4 (rather than 2 and 3) does not imply it is divisible by 8 is missing. That is a mistake since students at this age will often not see the difference.

I have yet to talk to a high school teacher who thought that students who have had Connected Mathematics Project are better at symbolic calculations than those they had had earlier before CMP was introduced. Some, but not all, say the students have better conceptual understanding. Thus I find it strange that fluency in symbolic skills is singled out as a strength of CMP. Have you read the books which were mentioned?

In other areas, such as geometry, CMP has few if any of the problems which are common in East Asian countries, to help students learn how to solve multistep problems, including quite a few nice problems where auxiliary lines need to be drawn. I have books from Nigeria which have better geometry problems than CMP does. You should know this if what I found on the web is correct, that you are helping develop a middle school program based on Japanese models. Instead of giving CMP an award, it would have been much better to have read the first edition carefully and made constructive suggestions about how to improve it. It needs a lot of improvement.

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April 18, 2009

Madison School District Math Program: Proposal to Increase Teacher Training and Teaching & Learning Staff

Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting will discuss a proposal to increase math teacher training and add staff to the Teaching & Learning Department. 215K PDF.

Interestingly, the latest document includes these words:
MMSD Teaching & Learning Staff and local Institute of Higher Education (IHE) Faculty work collaboratively to design a two-year professional development program aimed at deepening the mathematical content knowledge of MMSD middle school mathematics...
It is unusual to not mention the University of Wisconsin School of Education in these documents.... The UW-Madison School of Education has had a significant role in many Madison School District curriculum initiatives.

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April 13, 2009

Math on the Madison School Board's Agenda this Evening

The Madison School District Board of Education will discuss this "Administrative Response" to the recent Math Task Force [452K PDF]. Links: Math Task Force, Math Forum and a letter to Isthmus from a group of West High School Math Teachers.
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Accelerated Math Challenge, For a Student and Her Mom

Jay Matthews:

Anne McCracken Ehlers's third-grade daughter was not doing well in accelerated fourth-grade math at Whetstone Elementary School in Gaithersburg. Becca was spending far too long on her assignments. She was confused. She was unhappy. Ehlers is a teacher herself, in the English department at Rockville High School. So she was polite when she asked for a change, but nothing happened.

Finally, the 8-year-old in the drama decided that enough was enough, prompting this e-mail from her teacher to Ehlers on the afternoon of Feb. 5: "I just wanted to let you know that math bunch was held today from 1:00-1:30. Rebecca chose not to come. I asked her several times to please join us and she refused saying that she would come next week. We went over rounding, estimating, and adding decimals. We also reviewed word problems that include fractions. Please encourage Rebecca to take part in these extra math sessions. Thank you very much for your support."

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April 11, 2009

An Interview with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan


What do we know works to improve student achievement in K-12 STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education?

A.D.: I'd say great teachers, who know the content.
How do we know that?
A.D.: I think that's true in any subject area. If you get outstanding teachers, kids learn.

What's the evidence for that?
A.D.: Lots of evidence points to the fact that great teachers have an impact.

What is it about effective teachers that makes a difference?
A.D.: Lots of factors. It's not one. In this area, it sounds like common sense, but still, having teachers that truly know the content is critically important. You can't teach what you don't know. So that's a starting point. Beyond that, what do great teachers look like? They are passionate, they have high expectations--this is a calling, not a job. They go way beyond the call of duty to make sure that students are getting what they need. And they are really able to differentiate instruction, to work with kids who are struggling and those who are on track to becoming the next generation of chemists and physicists.

You mentioned content. But there are studies that have found what teachers majored in in college doesn't necessarily affect their ability to improve student achievement.
A.D.: You're right. I'm not talking about what you major in. I'm saying that you can't teach physics if you don't know physics. You don't have to have majored in physics. Maybe you come out of industry, or out of some other place. I worry a lot about how many folks are teaching classes in which they are not experts in the content. To me, that's a big part of the problem. We don't have enough teachers today who are experts in math and science. This is not just high school, it's also fifth, sixth, seventh grade.

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April 10, 2009

Nobel laureate John Nash shares with students his love of a puzzle

Albert Wong:

More than 800 students gathered yesterday to hear Nobel prize-winning mathematician, John F. Nash, Jr. (American mathematician), share stories about his early life.

Professor Nash, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences in 1994 and whose life was dramatised in an Oscar-winning film, A Beautiful Mind, told a hall packed with students at the Polytechnic University yesterday how problem-solving fascinated him from an early age.

"From a very young age, when we would start working with addition and subtraction calculations ... when the standard kids were working with two digits, I was working with three or four digits ...

"I got some pleasure from that," the professor said.

Professor Nash is in Hong Kong for a week-long speaking tour. Yesterday's talk, organised by the university and the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, was designed to give students an opportunity to pose questions.


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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.

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March 22, 2009

Price Drop: Stocks, Homes, Now Triple-Word Scores

Carl Bialik:

A trio of words -- one that's slang for pizza, another defined as a body's vital life force and a third referring to a snoring sound -- have conspired to change the game of Scrabble.

"Za," "qi" and "zzz" were added recently to the game's official word list for its original English-language edition. Because Z's and Q's each have the game's highest point value of 10, those monosyllabic words can rack up big scores for relatively little effort. So now that those high-scoring letters are more versatile, some Scrabble aficionados would like to see the rules changed -- which would be the only change since Alfred Butts popularized the game in 1948.

For non Scrabble-rousers, there are analogs for the proposed re-evaluations in other leisure pursuits. Some notable mispriced assets: Vermont Avenue in Monopoly, three-point field goals in basketball and football and overtime losses in hockey. Yet traditionalists say rules should endure; it's up to players to exploit them.

In Scrabble, players form words on a 15-by-15-space board using 100 tiles -- two of them blanks that can stand in for any letter, and 98 tiles with letters and corresponding point values. Players draw seven tiles to start the game and refresh their set after each turn.

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March 14, 2009

Obama on Math

Michael Alison Chandler:

President Obama outlined his reform agenda yesterday for the nation's public schools in a speech before the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He promoted extending the school day, adopting performance pay for teachers, and encouraging the proliferation of charter schools, to name a few.

But what did he say about math, you are wondering.

Here it is - the math report. Obama's speech mentioned math education explicitly four times:

1. He reminded the nation that economic development and academic achievement go hand in hand and that the federal government can play a significant role.

"Investments in math and science under President Eisenhower gave new opportunities to young scientists and engineers all across the country. It made possible somebody like a Sergei Brin to attend graduate school and found an upstart company called Google that would forever change our world," he said.

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March 11, 2009

Washington State High School Math Text Review

W. Stephen Wilson: 285K PDF via a kind reader's email:

A few basic goals of high school mathematics will be looked at closely in the top programs chosen for high school by the state of Washington. Our concern will be with the mathematical development and coherence of the programs and not with issues of pedagogy.

Algebra: linear functions, equations, and inequalities

We examine the algebraic concepts and skills associated with linear functions because they are a critical foundation for the further study of algebra. We focus our evaluation of the programs on the following Washington standard: A1.4.B Write and graph an equation for a line given the slope and the y intercept, the slope and a point on the line, or two points on the line, and translate between forms of linear equations.

We also consider how well the programs meet the following important standard: A1.1.B Solve problems that can be represented by linear functions, equations, and inequalities.

Linear functions, equations, and inequalities in Holt

We review Chapter 5 of Holt Algebra 1 on linear functions.

The study of linear equations and their graphs in Chapter 5 begins with a flawed foundation. Because this is so common, it will not be emphasized, but teachers need to compensate for these problems.

Three foundational issues are not dealt with at all. First, it is not shown that the definition of slope works for a line in the plane. The definition, as given, produces a ratio for every pair of points on the line. It is true that for a line these are all the same ratios, but no attempt is made to show that. Second, no attempt is made to show that a line in the plane is the graph of a linear equation; it is just asserted.

Third, it not shown that the graph of a linear equation is a line; again, it is just asserted.

Related: Math Forum and Madison's Math Task Force.

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March 10, 2009

Schools to Retain Controversial Math Curriculum

Michael Birnbaum:

Prince William County elementary schools will continue to teach mathematics with a textbook series that has drawn parent criticism and national scrutiny, despite deep divisions in the community over whether students should be given other options.

The curriculum from Pearson Education, "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space," which is used in thousands of classrooms nationwide, has been debated virtually since Prince William began using it three years ago under the administration of Superintendent Steven L. Walts. Critics say it fails to help students learn basic skills and facts.

Their contention was buttressed last month by a federally sponsored study of first-grade test scores in schools that used four kinds of textbooks. "Investigations," known for a student-centered approach that emphasizes creative ways to solve problems, trailed in the comparison.

But educators who have championed "Investigations" say it helps students develop a deeper conception of math fundamentals before they take on complicated topics. The debate shows no signs of going away.

Last week, the Prince William School Board split 4 to 4 on a proposal that would have allowed parents to choose between "Investigations" and a more traditional math curriculum. Opponents of the proposal, which failed Wednesday on the tie vote, said that it would have been cost prohibitive and that education would have suffered.

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March 8, 2009

Proof of Anaheim math teacher's skill is in students' test scores

Carla Rivera:

The former engineer has won a national honor for his energetic commitment in the classroom. Last year his young charges, who think he may be the best math teacher anywhere, aced the AP calculus test.

Sam Calavitta presides over what may be the noisiest, most spirited math class in the nation.

He greets each student personally, usually with a nickname ("Butterfly," "Batgirl" and "Champ" are a few) and a fist bump. Then he launches a raucous, quiz-show-style contest.

Boys and girls line up on opposite sides of the room, Calavitta shouts out complex equations from index cards, and the opposing sides clap and cheer with each correct answer.

"State the anti-derivative of the secant function," Calavitta yells.

"The natural log of the absolute value secant x plus tangent x plus c," answers a student correctly.

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March 1, 2009

Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools

Roberto Agodini, Barbara Harris, Sally Atkins-Burnett, Sheila Heaviside, Timothy Novak, Robert Murphy and Audrey Pendleton [693K PDF]:

Many U.S. children start school with weak math skills and there are differences between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds--those from poor families lag behind those from affluent ones (Rathburn and West 2004). These differences also grow over time, resulting in substantial differences in math achievement by the time students reach the fourth grade (Lee, Gregg, and Dion 2007).

The federal Title I program provides financial assistance to schools with a high number or percentage of poor children to help all students meet state academic standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Title I schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in bringing their students to state-specific targets for proficiency in math and reading. The goal of this provision is to ensure that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014.

The purpose of this large-scale, national study is to determine whether some early elementary school math curricula are more effective than others at improving student math achievement, thereby providing educators with information that may be useful for making AYP. A small number of curricula dominate elementary math instruction (seven math curricula make up 91 percent of the curricula used by K-2 educators), and the curricula are based on different theories for developing student math skills (Education Market Research 2008). NCLB emphasizes the importance of adopting scientifically-based educational practices; however, there is little rigorous research evidence to support one theory or curriculum over another. This study will help to fill that knowledge gap. The study is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education and is being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) and its subcontractor SRI International (SRI).

This report presents results from the first cohort of 39 schools participating in the evaluation, with the goal of answering the following research question: What are the relative effects of different early elementary math curricula on student math achievement in disadvantaged schools? The report also examines whether curriculum effects differ for student subgroups in different instructional settings.

Curricula Included in the Study. A competitive process was used to select four curricula for the evaluation that represent many of the diverse approaches used to teach elementary school math in the United States:

The process for selecting the curricula began with the study team inviting developers and publishers of early elementary school math curricula to submit a proposal to include their curricula in the evaluation. A panel of outside experts in math and math instruction then reviewed the submissions and recommended to IES curricula suitable for the study. The goal of the review process was to identify widely used curricula that draw on different instructional approaches and that hold promise for improving student math achievement.

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National Council on Teacher Quality:

We've grown so accustomed to Massachusetts' trailblazer stature in education that perhaps we were a little blasé over its decision to participate in the TIMSS, international assessments of 4th and 8th grade mathematics performance. Nor were we all that surprised to learn that the state's students performed relatively well compared to students from other nations.

Less blasé are we about Minnesota, which for years has demonstrated little more than smug satisfaction over its high standing among American states, but which decided to finally prove its mettle by competing against the world and doing fairly well (as is illustrated here).

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February 27, 2009

A handwaving approach to arithmetic

The Economist:

HUMAN language is the subject of endless scientific investigation, but the gestures that accompany speech are a surprisingly neglected area. It is sometimes jokingly said that the way to render an Italian speechless is to tie his wrists together, but almost everyone moves their hands in meaningful ways when they talk. Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, however, studies gestures carefully--and not out of idle curiosity. Introspection suggests that gesturing not only helps people communicate but also helps them to think. She set out to test this, and specifically to find out whether gestures might be used as an aid to children's learning. It turns out, as she told the AAAS, that they can.

The experiment she conducted involved balancing equations. Presented with an equation of the form 2 + 3 + 4 = x + 4, written on a blackboard, a child is asked to calculate the value of x. In the equations Dr Goldin-Meadow always made the last number on the left the same as the last on the right; so x was the sum of the first two numbers. Commonly, however, children who are learning arithmetic will add all three of the numbers on the left to arrive at the value of x.

In her previous work Dr Goldin-Meadow had noted that children often use spontaneous gestures when explaining how they solve mathematical puzzles so, to see if these hand-movements actually help a child to think, or are merely descriptive, she divided a group of children into two and asked them to balance equations. One group was asked to gesture while doing so. A second was asked not to. Both groups were then given a lesson in how to solve problems of this sort.

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February 25, 2009

Moscow Math Festival for 6th and 7th Graders

Click on the photo to view a larger version.

Here are the problems from this past Sunday's Moscow Math Festival for Grade 6 [PDF] (1,275 participants) and Grade 7 [PDF] (888 participants), along with a few photos (the competition was held at Moscow State University, using three buildings).
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February 24, 2009

The Spiral of Ignorance

The Economist:

Lack of understanding of the credit crunch is magnifying its damage

THE BBC's "Today" programme is the main current-affairs show on British radio. Last year it recruited a new presenter, Evan Davis, who is also an economist. An amusing pattern has since developed. Quizzed about the credit crunch, a politician delivers some carefully memorised remark about, say, quantitative easing. Then the guest experiences an audible moment of existential horror, as Mr Davis ungallantly presses him for details.

The tide has gone out and, with a very few exceptions, Britain is swimming naked: almost nobody appears to know what he is talking about. The havoc of the financial crisis has stretched and outstripped even most economists. The British political class is befogged. Ordinary people are overwhelmed. And just as the interaction between banking and economic woes is proving poisonous, so the interplay of public and political ignorance is damaging the country's prospects.

Start with the government, whose ministers are still oscillating between prophesying economic Armageddon and gamely predicting the best of all possible recoveries. Gordon Brown is learned in economic history--indeed, he is at his most animated and endearing when discussing it. But the prime minister's grip on the history he is living through is less masterful. The government's implicit strategy is to try something and, when that does not work, try something else: the approach modestly outlined by Barack Obama, but rather less honest.

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February 23, 2009

Life After Algebra II

Michael Alison Chandler:

As the school year speeds by, rising seniors at Fairfax High are already meeting with their teachers and guidance counselors to decide which classes they should take next year. Up until this point, the math sequence is spelled out -- Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II. After this point, there are plenty of options.

Here are the math classes students in a non-honors Algebra II class can choose from:

Trigonometry (Semester Course)
Probability and Statistics (Semester Course)
Discrete Math (Semester Course)
Pre Calculus with Trigonometry
AP Statistics
AP Computer Science

If they are not pursuing an advanced diploma, they can also choose to take no math class their senior year. That's an option a few students I talked to this week planned to take. Others were aiming for pre-calculus, which will put them on track to take Calculus in college. Others were talking about a combination of the semester-long courses.

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February 20, 2009

A handwaving approach to arithmetic

The Economist:

HUMAN language is the subject of endless scientific investigation, but the gestures that accompany speech are a surprisingly neglected area. It is sometimes jokingly said that the way to render an Italian speechless is to tie his wrists together, but almost everyone moves their hands in meaningful ways when they talk. Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, however, studies gestures carefully--and not out of idle curiosity. Introspection suggests that gesturing not only helps people communicate but also helps them to think. She set out to test this, and specifically to find out whether gestures might be used as an aid to children's learning. It turns out, as she told the AAAS, that they can.

The experiment she conducted involved balancing equations. Presented with an equation of the form 2 + 3 + 4 = x + 4, written on a blackboard, a child is asked to calculate the value of x. In the equations Dr Goldin-Meadow always made the last number on the left the same as the last on the right; so x was the sum of the first two numbers. Commonly, however, children who are learning arithmetic will add all three of the numbers on the left to arrive at the value of x.

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February 12, 2009

Students Then and Now

J. Edward Ketz:

Compared with the students in the 1970s, today's accounting students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

I have been teaching full time for over thirty years. If you toss in my apprenticeship teaching as a graduate student, I have taught for almost thirty-five years. During that span of time, one sees many, many students, and it amazes me how different they have been over time, and the inequality continues to grow. Compared with the students in the 1970s, today's students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.

Before proceeding, let me enunciate two premises. First, I do not think there is any significant difference between the two groups in terms of native, raw intelligence. Instead, the distinction between yesterday's and today's students when they first set foot on college campuses rests in their educational backgrounds, analytical thinking, quantitative skills, reading abilities, willingness to work, and their attitudes concerning the educational process. In short, they differ in terms of their readiness for college. Second, I am focusing on the average student who majors in accounting. Both groups arise from a distribution of students. The lower tail of yesteryear's population had some weak students, and the upper tail of the present-day population has some very strong students; however, when one focuses on the means of these two distributions, he or she finds a huge gap.

To begin, today's average accounting major cannot perform what used to be Algebra I and II in high school. Students cannot solve simultaneous equations. Students have difficulty with present value computations, not to mention formula derivations. Students even have difficulty employing the high-low method to derive a cost function, something that merely requires one to estimate a straight line from two points.

I would like to discuss in class the partial derivative of a present value formula to ascertain the impact of changes in interest rates, but that has become a fruitless enterprise. Even if students had a course in calculus, the exams probably had multiple choice questions so students guessed their way through the course, they don't remember what they learned, and whatever they learned was mechanical and superficial.


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February 10, 2009

February 1994: Now They Call it 21st Century Skills

Charles J. Sykes:

"Dumbing Down Our Kids--What's Really Wrong With Outcome Based Education"

Charles J. Sykes, Wisconsin Interest, reprinted in Network News & Views 2/94, pp. 9-18

Joan Wittig is not an expert, nor is she an activist. She just didn't understand why her children weren't learning to write, spell, or read very well. She didn't understand why they kept coming home with sloppy papers filled with spelling mistakes and bad grammar and why teachers never corrected them or demanded better work. Nor could she fathom why her child's fourth-grade teacher would write, "I love your story, especially the spelling," on a story jammed with misspelled words. (It began: "Once a pona time I visited a tropical rian forist.")

While Wittig did not have a degree in education, she did have some college-level credits in education and a "background of training others to perform accurately and competently in my numerous job positions, beginning in my high school years." That experience was enough for her to sense something was wrong. She was not easily brushed off by assurances that her children were being taught "whole language skills." For two years, she agonized before transferring her children from New Berlin's public schools to private schools.

After only a semester at the private schools, her children were writing and reading at a markedly higher level. Their papers were neatly written, grammatical, and their spelling was systematically corrected.

Earlier this year, she decided to take her story to her local school board.

Armed with copies of her children's work (before and after their transfer to private schools), she questioned the district's allegiance to "whole language"--a teaching philosophy, Wittig said, where children are "encouraged to write and spell any way they want and the teacher does not correct the spelling so that the child's creativity is not stifled."

"Is this to be considered teaching?" she asked. "Is effective learning taking place?"

She also wondered about the schools' emphasis on "cooperative learning," in which children learn in groups. "I sent my child to school to be taught by a teacher," she said, "not by another student."

A local newspaper story recounted the reaction to Wittig's presentation: "Superintendent James Benfield said such criticism could make school employees feel they are doing something wrong. 'We should not have employees criticized until we change the guidelines,' he said, adding that he would be willing to consider a change."

Change is unlikely. If Wittig left the skirmish puzzled, she is not alone.

A growing number of school districts seem eager to embrace the very techniques Joan Wittig was challenging. And what she saw as the dumbing down of her children's schools is being hailed by state commissions, educational experts, and a growing number of school boards as the latest in educational "reforms."

Many of those "reforms" are being instituted under the rubric of outcome based education (OBE), a term fraught with controversy, ambiguity, and misunderstanding.

The source of the confusion is readily understandable. Different people mean different things when they talk about outcome based education. Adding to the confusion, some districts apparently have adopted OBE techniques, but deny having done so when parents and/or reporters make inquiries.

Lost in the fog of jargon that surrounds OBE are radical differences over the role of schools in society. School administrators who are understandably reluctant to venture into such treacherous waters often downplay, deny, or evade the philosophical underpinnings of the reforms they advocate.

One thing, however, is clear. Outcome based education programs are spreading rapidly at both the state and local level, driven in large measure by efforts to establish national and state "goals" for improving education. That process is likely to accelerate with the Clinton administration's decision to require states to adopt federally approved "goals" as a condition of receiving school aid. Those federal guidelines could very well look a good deal like the "outcomes" advocated by architects of OBE.

This will intensify the level of political controversy over OBE.

But the politics of OBE are anything but simple. OBE programs are bitterly opposed by some conservative parent groups, but have been widely embraced by moderate and conservative business leaders, including those who served on Governor Tommy G. Thompson's Commission on Schools for the 21st Century (known as the Fish Commission after its chairman, Ody Fish). On the other hand, OBE is championed by the education establishment (and is de rigueur at schools of education), but it is opposed by one of the nation's largest teachers' unions, the American Federation of Teachers.

Much of the confusion over OBE centers on the notion of "outcomes."

Ironically, "outcomes" were first raised to prominence by leaders of the conservative educational reform movement of the 1980s. Championed by Chester E. Finn, Jr., among others, such reformers argued that the obsession with inputs (dollars spent, books bought, staff hired) focused on the wrong end of the educational pipeline. They insisted that schools could be made more effective and accountable by shifting emphasis to outcomes (what children actually learned). Finn's emphasis on outcomes was designed explicitly to make schools more accountable by creating specific and verifiable educational objectives in subjects like math, science, history, geography, and English. In retrospect, the intellectual debate over accountability was won by conservatives. Indeed, conservatives were so successful in advancing their case that the term "outcomes" has become a virtually irresistible sales tool for educational reform.

The irony is that, in practice, the educational philosophies collectively known as outcome based education have little, if anything, in common with these original goals. To the contrary, OBE, with its hostility to competition, traditional measures of progress, and academic disciplines in general, can more accurately be described as part of a counter-reformation, a reaction to those attempts to make schools more accountable and effective. The OBE being sold to schools across Wisconsin represents, in effect, a semantic hijacking.

"The conservative education reform of the 1980s wanted to focus on outcomes (i.e. knowledge gained) instead of inputs (i.e. dollars spent)," notes former Education Secretary William Bennett. "The aim was to ensure greater accountability. What the education establishment has done is to appropriate the term but change the intent."

In other words, educationists have adopted the language of accountability to help them avoid being accountable.

Central to this semantic hijacking is OBE's shift of outcomes from cognitive knowledge to goals centering on values, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. As an example of a rigorous cognitive outcome (the sort the original reformers had in mind), Bennett cites the Advanced Placement Examinations, which give students credit for courses based on their knowledge and proficiency in a subject area, rather than on their accumulated "seat-time" in a classroom.

In contrast, OBE programs are less interested in whether students know the origins of the Civil War or the author of the Tempest than whether students have met such outcomes as "establishing priorities to balance multiple life roles" (a goal in Pennsylvania) or "positive self-concept" (a goal in Kentucky). Nothing that Joan Wittig found in her children's classrooms was inconsistent with OBE philosophies or practices.

Consider the differences in approaches to educational reforms:

  • Where the reformers like Finn cited "outcomes," they insisted on higher academic standards; OBE lowers them.
  • Where the original reformers aimed at accountability, OBE makes it difficult, if not impossible, to objectively measure and compare educational progress.
  • Instead of clearly stated, verifiable outcomes, OBE goals are often diffuse, fuzzy, and ill-defined, loaded with educationist jargon like "holistic learning," "whole-child development," and "interpersonal competencies."
  • Where the original reformers saw their goal as excellence, OBE is characterized by a radical egalitarianism that tends to penalize high-achieving students.
  • Where original reformers emphasized schools that worked, OBE is experimental. Its advocates are unable to point to a single district where it has been successful.
  • And finally, where the original reformers saw an emphasis on outcomes as a way to return to educational basics, OBE has become, in Bennett's words, "a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary version of the kind of 'politically correct' thinking that has infected our colleges and universities."

But while much of Outcome Based Education is genuinely radical, in general, it does not represent anything really very new. Rather, it is a continuation of the decades-old drift in educational circles away from subject content towards technique; from teaching knowledge to emphasizing nebulous "mental skills."

It represents a continuation of the flight from academic rigor and accountability. Ultimately, OBE is less sinister than it is the embodiment of mediocrity as an educational goal.

The architects of OBE envision a world in which no one fails, or at least one in which no one fails in school. "For the most part," declares Albert Mammary, "we believe competition in the classroom is destructive." Mammary has been superintendent of New York's Johnson City Central School District, K-12, where he developed an "Outcomes-Driven Developmental Model" (ODDM), which he describes as the "nation's first comprehensive school improvement model."

The model is built on slogans along the line of "Success for all students" and "Excellence for All."

For Mammary, the first step to success begins with doing away with failure.

Outcome based schools "believe there should be no failure and that failure ought to be removed from our vocabulary and thoughts," he wrote in 1991. "Failure, or fear of failure, will cause students to give up."

Former students may recall that, to the contrary, the fear of failure was an inducement to try harder, a spur that caused papers to be written and formulas memorized. But Mammary sees the threat of failure only as a barrier to enthusiastic learning.

"When students don't have to worry about failure," he insists, "they will be more apt to want to learn."

Mammary apparently feels the same way about differentiation of any sort. He opposes curved grading, ability grouping, and tracking. Tests are also transformed. They are no longer trials of knowledge, but celebrations of success.

"Testing should be creative," he insists, "aligned to learning outcomes, and only given when the students will do well."

This is only the beginning of his redefinition of "success" and "excellence."

Outcome based schools, he declares, "believe excellence is for every child and not just a few." They achieve this not by dragging the top kids down, he writes, but by bringing expectations up for everyone. He does this, however, by insisting that everyone be a winner.

Mammary is explicit on this: "A no-cut philosophy is recommended. Everyone trying out for the football team should make it; every girl or boy that (sic) wants to be a cheerleader should make it; everyone who comes to the program for the gifted and talented should make it."

There is a dreamy, utopian quality about all of this. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone were a prom queen; if everybody who dreamed of being a quarterback could be one; if every aspiring pianist could star in a concert. The world, unfortunately, doesn't work that way.

But that is precisely the point. Dreams have such power to fix our imaginations precisely because everyone cannot achieve them. Boys aspire to be quarterbacks because of the level of accomplishment it represents. Not everyone can do it. If anyone could be quarterback, what is left to aspire to?

There is also a practical concern here. A football team that must play anyone who wishes to be quarterback will quickly become a team on which no one will want to play any position.

By abolishing failure (or at least the recognition and consequences of failure) and redefining excellence to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean, we deprive success of meaning. In the ideal OBE world, everyone would feel like a success, without necessarily having to do much of anything to justify their self-esteem.

If Mammary appears to be a dreamer, there are practical applications of his philosophy. The most obvious is the hostility of OBE to traditional grades as measurements of achievement.

The emphasis on abolishing grades and traditional tests is central to the philosophy of OBE advocates. "Grading lies at the core of how our current system operates," declares OBE guru William Spady, director of the High Success Program on Outcome-Based Education.

Spady, who has been influential in the establishment of OBE programs in Wisconsin, quotes conservative reformers such as Chester Finn in his writings, but he follows Mammary in calling for the leveling of distinctions based on ability, industry or achievement.

Grades are gatekeepers, separating good students from others. "This, in turn, reinforces the system of inter-student comparison and competition created by class ranks. Such a system, of course, gives a natural advantage to those with stronger academic backgrounds, higher aptitudes for given areas of learning, and more resources at home to support their learning."

His objection appears to be based less on educational grounds than on his suspicion of inequality of any sort. Grades favor the smart and the studious. Spady wants to make up for the unfairness of it all.

Grades are oppressive, Spady writes. "Grades label students, control their opportunities, limit their choices, shape their identities, and define their rewards for learning and behaving in given ways."

Grades pit students against one another, he complains, "implying that achievement and success are inherently comparative, competitive and relevant" (which, in fact, they are, both in school and life). Indeed, Spady sees the issue of grades in terms of class struggle. "The usual result: the rich get richer, the poor give up."

Not necessarily. Occasionally, the student who gets Ds will work to become a student who gets Cs, and the C student will strive to become an A student. The A student may work harder so that he does not become a C student.

But Spady sees no link between grades and motivation to succeed or improve oneself. Instead, he focuses on the potential damage that poor grades might inflict on "young people struggling to define their identity and self-worth." He assumes here that identity and self-worth are independent of achievement.

Like Mammary, Spady envisions a grading system with no failure, but also no bad grades at all. OBE, he explains, eliminates labeling and competitive grading and stresses "VALIDATING that a high level of performance is ultimately reached on those things that will directly impact on the student's success in the future. In other words, all we're really interested in is A-level performance, thank you, so we EXPECT it of all students, systematically teach for it, and validate it when it occurs."

The OBE buzzword for its approved evaluation system is "authentic assessment." Assessment is authentic, apparently, only when it becomes impossible to rank one student's performance ahead of another's.

In this new system, Spady suggests that teachers will be able to "throw away their pens at evaluation and reporting time and replace them with pencils that have large erasers." Although he does not expand on the point, the abolition of "permanent records" has obvious advantages for educationists as well as students. The eraser takes both off the hook at the same time.

One form of accountability especially detested by the educational establishment creates measurements by which academic achievement can be readily compared among schools and among districts. Evaluations that are constantly in flux obviously cannot be compared this way. At most, schools could report progress toward their educational "goals," which may be notoriously difficult to quantify. Those goals, however, will be a benchmark of sorts, and educationists can be expected to point to them as authentic measures of their success.

Indeed, success of some sort or another seems inevitable, since the goals often appear to be set to accommodate the lowest common denominator.

In its goal statement, Milwaukee's suburban Whitnall district declared, "By 1996-97, all students will demonstrate 100% proficiency in the District's performance outcomes."

Whitnall school board member Ted Mueller quotes one astute resident remarking, "If we require all students to be able to stuff a basketball to be able to graduate from high school, the only way you're going to be able to accomplish that is to lower the basketball hoop."

Because material must be taught and re-taught until every student has mastered it, teachers in the OBE classroom necessarily have to narrow their ambitions. OBE advocates describe this as teaching less, but better. Fewer areas of math are covered, but they are covered more intensely. Even so, it is hard to avoid the "Robin Hood effect," in which time and attention are shifted from high achieving students (who quickly master the material) to slower achieving students. This is, of course, exacerbated by OBE's insistence on eliminating tracking or ability grouping.

Robert Slavin, director of the elementary school program at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, notes that OBE (or "mastery learning") "poses a dilemma, a choice between content coverage and mastery."

"Because rapid coverage is likely to be of greatest benefit to high achievers, whereas high mastery is of greatest benefit to low achievers," he concludes, programs such as OBE may be taught at the expense of the quicker students.

"If some students take much longer than others to learn a particular objective, then one of two things must happen," Slavin writes. "Either corrective instruction must be given outside of regular classroom time, or students who achieve mastery early on will have to spend considerable amounts of time waiting for their classmates to catch up..." It is not even clear that such a system benefits slower learners. Slavin's research found that "it may often be the case that even for low achievers, spending the time to master each objective may be less productive than covering more objectives."

One of the most popular features of OBE is also one of the overt examples of the Robin Hood effect. In cooperative learning, students allegedly teach one another. In reality, it serves as a mechanism to keep students working at a uniform pace.

In her presentation to the New Berlin school board, Joan Wittig remarked on the bizarre consequences of such mandatory "cooperation."

"Lazy, poor students rely on the good students to do all the work," she told the board. "Good students are reinforced that they must do everything if it is to be done right."

Another critic is high school senior Marisa Meisters, who wrote to a local newspaper:
As a senior at Arrowhead [High School], I have seen the results of OBE firsthand. The bottom line is that it does not work. The main goal of OBE is to teach students how to work in groups. The students in each group who understand the concept are supposed to teach the others in the group. Instead of moving on to more challenging concepts, the faster students have to wait for the entire group to understand the concept before they move on. Another OBE goal is to allow students to master subjects by retaking any test until the student can pass. The result is that the students do not study. Why should they when they can keep retaking the test? Eventually the student is bound to guess right.

But the genuinely radical vision of OBE's architects is nothing so banal as "less taught but taught well." Theorists like William Spady envision an educational system "grounded on future-driven outcomes that will directly impact the lives of students in the future, not on lesson and unit and course objectives. This means that content details will have to give way to the larger cognitive, technical, and interpersonal competencies needed in our complex, changing world."

Exactly how "exit outcomes" will be divorced from "content details" is unclear. But it seems to mean that details of history (such as who won World War II) might be sacrificed in favor of material that will "directly impact" the lives of young people. Teaching "things," or specific knowledge, is thus downgraded in the service of what Spady vaguely describes as "larger...competencies." This appears to be educationese for saying that one does not need to know where England is as long as one has mastered "spatial" competencies; one need not know history as long as one has attained an interpersonally competent outcome.

Of course, Spady doesn't expect this to come all at once. He acknowledges that schools will have to muddle through for the time being with the existing curriculum content, or what is left of it. Spady envisions a three-part process of transformation.

In the first stage, existing subject areas (science, math, history, English) "are taken as givens and are used to frame and define outcomes." In its infancy, OBE will be content to define outcomes in terms of math abilities, knowledge of history, etc. These are the terms on which OBE is usually sold to parents and school boards. This is, however, only the beginning as far as Spady is concerned.

In the second stage, which Spady calls "Transitional OBE," educrats create "a vehicle for separating curriculum content from intended outcomes and for placing primacy on the latter."

In this stage, traditional curricular content is replaced by outcomes emphasizing Spady's "higher order competencies and orientations."

As if to emphasize how separate these competencies are from the traditional content of the curriculum, Spady stresses that "these broad competencies are almost always content neutral." Indeed, he goes so far as to declare that the "content simply becomes a vehicle through which [higher order competencies] are developed and demonstrated."

By Spady's third and final stage--called "Transformational OBE"--the divorce between course content and the "exit outcomes" is complete and irreversible. Traditional curricular content has faded away altogether. In Transformational OBE, Spady writes, "curriculum content is no longer the grounding and defining element of outcomes."

With content excluded, Spady turns up the flow of educationese to full-bore.

Now he writes, "outcomes are seen as culminating Exit role performances which include sometimes complex arrays of knowledge, competencies, and orientations and which require learning demonstrations in varying role contexts."

Naturally this "dramatically redefines the role of subject content in determining and constraining what outcomes can be." Actual knowledge--the ability to write a coherent letter, add a column of numbers, know the century in which the [U.S.] Civil War took place--should not be allowed to crimp the style of the higher order competencies.

Predictably (and also conveniently), these competencies cannot be measured by tests or other verifiable, comparative measures. Indeed, Spady describes the student of the future as a sort of performance art--a work in progress.

"The bottom line of Transformational OBE is that student learning is manifested through their ability to carry out performance roles in contexts that at least simulate life situations and challenges."

Unfortunately, graduates will not be called on merely to perform in simulations of life. They will face the real thing, a reality unlikely to conform itself to Spady's model.

Perhaps because of the transitional nature of OBE, fuzzy goals clogged with impenetrable jargon seem endemic to OBE.

Kentucky's state educational goals include such "valued outcomes" as: "Listening," which officials defined by saying "Students construct meaning from messages communicated in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes through listening."

This was distinguished from "Observing," which they defined by saying "Students construct meaning from messages communicated in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes through observing."

Other goals included: "Interpersonal Relationships," in which "Students observe, analyze, and interpret human behaviors to acquire a better understanding of self, others, and human relationships;" "Consumerism...Students demonstrate effective decision-making and evaluate consumer skills;" "Mental and Emotional Wellness...Students demonstrate positive strategies for achieving and maintaining mental and emotional wellness;" "Positive self-concept...Students demonstrate the ability to be adaptable and flexible through appropriate tasks or projects;" "Multicultural and World View...Students demonstrate an understanding of, appreciation of, and sensitivity to a multicultural and world view;" and "Ethical values...Students demonstrate the ability to make decisions based on ethical values."

Obvious questions remain unanswered here: Whose ethical values will be used to establish the acceptable outcomes? Will any size fit? How will they be measured? How will schools determine whether a student has met its goals for "Interpersonal Skills" or "Consistent, Responsive and Caring Behavior," or "Open Mind to Alternative Perspectives?"

And haven't the schools gotten themselves into a lot of areas that are, frankly, none of their business?

Academic areas are not neglected, but they often bear only a passing resemblance to traditional fields of study.

Geography is transformed into "Relationship of Geography to Human Activity," in which "Students recognize the geographic interaction between people and their surroundings in order to make decisions and take actions that reflect responsibility for the environment." (Note that this does not actually include knowing something so mundane as what countries border the United States.)

Similarly, the "aesthetic" goal in which "Students appreciate creativity and the value of the arts and humanities" could conceivably by achieved without students having read a classic work of literature or seen a masterpiece of art.

The emphasis on "skills" tends to conceal the basic flaw of such curriculums that are devoid of "facts." As E.D. Hirsch notes, "Yes, problem-solving skills are necessary, But they depend on a wealth of relevant knowledge." Such knowledge plays little, if any, role in what passes for outcome based education these days.

Criticism of OBE's abstract academic goals is not limited to conservatives. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has joined the chorus of OBE critics who question its academic priorities.

"OBE standards include academic outcomes," he notes, "but they are very few and so vague that they would be satisfied by almost any level of achievement, from top-notch to minimal; in other words, they are no improvement over what we have now."

Pennsylvania's writing outcome, for example, called for "All students [to] write for a variety of purposes including to narrate, inform, and persuade, in all subject areas." Remarked Shanker, "In an excellent school, this could mean a portfolio of short stories, several 1,000-word essays, and numerous shorter ones. In a poor school, it could mean three short paragraphs loaded with misspellings.

"Vaguely worded outcomes like this will not send a message to students, teachers and parents about what is required of youngsters. Nor will they help bridge the enormous gap between schools where students are expected to achieve...and schools where anything goes."

As Shanker noted, Pennsylvania was something of a trailblazer in the area of establishing "goals" for outcome based educational programs. Officials there were so enthusiastic that they embraced 51 separate "learning outcomes," of which the vast majority concerned values, feelings, or attitudes.

One "outcome" defined as a base goal in Pennsylvania was that "all students understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals and exhibit self-esteem." It did not describe how self-esteem would be exhibited or measured.

Other learning outcomes included: "All students develop interpersonal communication, decision making, coping, and evaluation skills and apply them to personal, family and community living." "All students relate in writing, speech or other media, the history and nature of various forms of prejudice to current problems facing communities and nations, including the United States."

Once again, it was not clear how the schools would keep tabs on environmental decisions made in students' private lives or how they would remediate environmentally incorrect behaviors.

The very number of "learning outcomes" is significant. As Shanker notes, the large number of outcomes "sounds demanding, but it's the opposite." That is because teachers are already spread thin and will therefore have to pick and choose among the dozens of mandated "outcomes." It is not hard to predict what sort of choices they will make. Remarks Shanker, "it's a lot easier to schmooze with kids about 'life roles' than to make sure they can do geometry theorems or read Macbeth. In an educational version of Gresham's law, the fluffy will drive out the solid and worthwhile."

Wisconsin, known for its good sense and immunity to the trendy and untested, has not escaped infection. OBE buzzwords have become commonplace in local district mission statements and planning documents. The City of Waukesha School District's Strategic Planning report, for instance, declares that "The process of learning is as important as the content being taught" and that "learning to cooperate is as important as learning to compete."

The movement towards outcome based education was given its greatest impetus, however, by a state commission charged with developing goals for the state's schools. The Governor's Commission on Schools for the 21st Century called for state law to be revised "to state the goals and expectations of Wisconsin pubic schools in language that is compatible with an outcome-based integration education model..." It also called on state officials to ensure "conformity with outcome-based educational objectives."

The Fish Commission embraced an "integrated education model curriculum framework" that says that "every student will give evidence of the knowledge, skills, and understanding in each of the following areas."

There followed a list of "outcomes" and "goals," including: "Leisure Time; Cultural interdependence; Interpersonal skills; Adaptability; Equity; Accepting People; Positive self-image; Application of values and ethics; Risk taking and experimentation; Family relationships; Environmental Stewardship; Positive work attitudes and habits; Racial, ethnic, cultural diversity histories of U.S.; Team Work; Human Growth and Development; Respect all occupations; Shared decision making; Health & wellness.

While the list did include history, geography, computer literacy, and communications among other more traditional subjects, it is still remarkable for its lack of focus and its extraordinarily wide net. The commission did not explain how it would ascertain, measure, or correct students' knowledge, skills, and understanding of family relationships, or why this should be considered a state-mandated educational goal.

In May 1993, I had the chance to moderate a debate on outcome based education. During the debate, I asked an official of Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction (and a proponent of OBE), "Have there been specific, controlled studies conducted to measure the performance of low, medium, and high capability students in Outcome Based Education versus traditional teaching curriculums."

His answer: "Most of the outcome based programs that are in effect now have not been in effect for a long enough period of time for studies of the kind you're talking about to take place."

In other words: no.

The suspicions that OBE might be a stalking horse for politically correct social engineering are fueled by its penchant for setting "outcomes" that relate to social, cultural, and political issues. Comments by some of OBE's most prominent architects tend to contribute to the misgivings of critics. William Spady, who has been paid $2,500 to make presentations to at least one suburban Milwaukee district, has made it clear that his vision of the future of education is dominated by social, cultural, and ideological preoccupations.

At times, his agenda is overtly political.

In 1987, Spady outlined his own assumptions regarding the future which needed to be taken into account when fashioning "exit outcomes."

His first assumption stated, "Despite the historical trend toward intellectual enlightenment and cultural pluralism, there has been a major rise in religious and political orthodoxy, intolerance, and conservatism with which young people will have to deal."

The implication is that OBE could somehow serve as an antidote to this 'ominous' resurgence of conservative thought.

His remaining assumptions strike a similarly ideological note. He describes the "re-pluralizing of society," the "decline of the traditional nuclear family," and the "gap between 'have' and 'have not' children." He is alarmist about the future of the environment.

"Global climate and ecology," he wrote, "are already shifting in a dangerous direction."

This is not to suggest that all OBE programs have a hidden political agenda. But its authors do seem to have a far more expansive view of the role of schools than more traditional educators ever envisioned. Albert Mammary, for example, writes:

"We believe that if students don't get love at home, they should get it in schools. If they don't get caring at home, they should get it in schools. If they don't belong and aren't connected at home, they should get it in schools. If they don't get food and clothing at home, they should also get that in schools."

This would seem to suggest that schools not only become centers of social work and welfare, but also substitute families. Educators should not be surprised if this ambition is not greeted with enthusiasm from every corner of society.

Designers of OBE scoff at charges that the new curriculums involve social engineering, and they are right to the extent that many programs bear little resemblance to the grandiose visions set out by Messrs. Mammary and Spady.

But, given the vagueness of the jargon-laden "outcomes," it is difficult for parents to know in advance what their students will learn and equally hard to measure success after the fact.

Such confusion provides ample opportunity for abuse. Political agendas can infiltrate curriculums as certain ideas and attitudes become part of the mandated "outcomes," but this is not inevitable.

In most cases, the outcome is less likely to be indoctrination than a pervasive mediocrity. A recent National Geographic article describing the culture of Sweden quoted one ethnologist: "We're taught very early not to stand out from the crowd..." The Swedish word lagom refers to this sense of "appropriateness," or averageness, that dominates Swedish life. "Lagom is best," Swedes are quoted as saying. "To be average is good in Sweden. To be different is bad."

This could well be the slogan for Outcome Based Education.

In a world with no losers and no winners, the overall tone will be blandness and conformity, an outcome that would probably be met with considerable enthusiasm by the designers of Outcome Based Education. No one feels very good, but then no one's self-esteem suffers much either.

What's really wrong with OBE? Its product is likely to be unmotivated, uninspired children who feel good about themselves, but who are unprepared for failure, rejection, and disappointment--and equally unprepared for competition in the 1990s and beyond.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:44 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Singapore Math Bill Approved in Utah

Lisa Schencker:

Some lawmakers want Utah to follow the lead of a tiny Asian country when it comes to teaching math.

A senate committee Friday morning approved a bill, SB 159, that would allow districts and charter schools to apply for grants to use the Singapore method to teach math. Singapore is one of the highest scoring countries on international math tests.

In Singapore, math students are encouraged to think visually and develop mental strategies to solve problems. They're discouraged from using paper to compute math problems.

"We seek to create a school system that will produce a significant percentage of the scientists and engineers needed by our country," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is sponsoring the bill.

SB 159 would offer competitive grants to districts that come up with plans for teaching Singapore math in kindergarten through sixth grade and some secondary school classes. The bill would also require districts to train teachers in Singapore math and offer grants to colleges and other groups to train mathematicians to be teachers.

"I believe this will raise the math abilities of everyone in the state," said Aaron Bertram, chairman of the University of Utah mathematics department.

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The Structure of Everything

Marc Kaufman:

Did you know that 365 -- the number of days in a year -- is equal to 10 times 10, plus 11 times 11, plus 12 times 12?

Or that the sum of any successive odd numbers always equals a square number -- as in 1 + 3 = 4 (2 squared), while 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 (3 squared), and 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 (4 squared)?

Those are just the start of a remarkable number of magical patterns, coincidences and constants in mathematics. No wonder philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries over whether math is a system that humans invented or a cosmic -- possibly divine -- order that we simply discovered. That's the fundamental question Mario Livio probes in his engrossing book Is God a Mathematician?

Livio, an astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, explains the invention-vs.-discovery debate largely through the work and personalities of great figures in math history, from Pythagoras and Plato to Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. At times, Livio's theorems, proofs and conundrums may be challenging for readers who struggled through algebra, but he makes most of this material not only comprehensible but downright intriguing. Often, he gives a relatively complex explanation of a mathematical problem or insight, then follows it with a "simply put" distillation.

An extended section on knot theory is, well, pretty knotty. But it ultimately sheds light on the workings of the DNA double helix, and Livio illustrates the theory with a concrete example: Two teams taking different approaches to the notoriously difficult problem of how many knots could be formed with a specific number of crossings -- in this case, 16 or fewer -- came up with the same answer: 1,701,936.

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January 8, 2009

Madison Math Program Public Input Session

The Madison School District Administration held a public input session on the recent Math Task Force report [3.9MB PDF] last evening at Memorial High School. Superintendent Dan Nerad opened and closed the meeting, which featured about 56 attendees, at least half of whom appeared to be district teachers and staff. Math Coordinator Brian Sniff ran the meeting.

Task force member and UW-Madison Professor Mitchell Nathan [Clusty Search] was in attendance along with Terry Millar, a UW-Madison Professor who has been very involved in the Madison School District's math programs for many years. (Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater recently joined the UW-Madison Center for Education Research, among other appointments). UW-Madison Math professor Steffen Lempp attended as did school board President Arlene Silveira and board members Ed Hughes and Beth Moss. Jill Jokela, the parent representative on the Math Task Force, was also present.

Listen via this 30MB mp3 audio file. 5.5MB PDF Handout.


Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:55 PM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 6, 2009

Mathmetician The Best Job in the US; Madison Math Task Force Community Meetings Tonight & Tomorrow

Sarah Needleman:

Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Courter set out on a career path that has since provided her with a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs. Now, her occupation -- mathematician -- has landed at the top spot on a new study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S.

"It's a lot more than just some boring subject that everybody has to take in school," says Ms. Courter, a research mathematician at mental images Inc., a maker of 3D-visualization software in San Francisco. "It's the science of problem-solving."

The study, to be released Tuesday from, a new job site, evaluates 200 professions to determine the best and worst according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. ( is published by Adicio Inc., in which Wall Street Journal owner News Corp. holds a minority stake.)

The findings were compiled by Les Krantz, author of "Jobs Rated Almanac," and are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, as well as studies from trade associations and Mr. Krantz's own expertise.

According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions -- indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise -- unlike those toward the bottom of the list like sewage-plant operator, painter and bricklayer. They also aren't expected to do any heavy lifting, crawling or crouching -- attributes associated with occupations such as firefighter, auto mechanic and plumber.

The study also considers pay, which was determined by measuring each job's median income and growth potential. Mathematicians' annual income was pegged at $94,160, but Ms. Courter, 38, says her salary exceeds that amount.

Related:Parents and citizens have another opportunity to provide input on this matter when Brian Sniff, Madison's Math Coordinator and Lisa Wachtel, Director of Madison's Teaching & Learning discuss the Math Report at a Cherokee Middle School PTO meeting on January 14, 2009 at 7:00p.m.

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January 1, 2009

Madison School District seeks input on proposed math changes

Andy Hall:

A series of potentially controversial proposals will be outlined next week as residents are invited to help shape how math is taught in the Madison School District.

Among the recommendations from a task force that recently completed a one-year study:

• Switch to full-time math teachers for all students in grades five through eight.

• The math task force's executive summary and full report

• Substantially boost the training of math teachers.

• Seriously consider selecting a single textbook for each grade level or course in the district, rather than having a variety of textbooks used in schools across the district.

The task force was created in 2006 by the Madison School Board to independently review the district's math programs and seek ways to improve students' performance.

Related links:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:11 PM | Comments (14) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 23, 2008

Judge Blocks California's 8th Grade Algebra Plans

Samantha Young:

A judge on Friday blocked a plan to make California the first state in the nation to require algebra testing for all eighth-graders.

The ruling sidelines an ambitious mandate approved by the state Board of Education in July after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended it over the concerns of California's school superintendent and education groups.

The board pushed through the effort in order for the state to meet federal testing requirements or face losing up to $4.1 million in funding. The mandate would have affected students in the 2011-12 school year.

But the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators sued in September to overturn the requirement. They questioned whether the state had the money, staff and training to comply with the state board's decision.

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December 16, 2008

Milwaukee Schools Likely to Require more Math & Science

Alan Borsuk:

Three years of math, three years of science - start getting ready, all you sixth-graders in Milwaukee Public Schools.

A School Board committee voted 3-0 Monday night to increase the requirements for graduating from MPS from two years each of math and science to three, effective with the class of 2014-'15, members of which are currently sixth-graders.

In addition, students would need to complete a half-year's worth of either an online course, community service or a service-learning project.

The proposal will go to the full board tonight and is expected to be approved.

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December 12, 2008

TIMSS-07 comment

In the comments on TIMSS-07 math scores, one important aspect
has not been mentioned.

Grade 8US Minn.KoreaSingapore
Number510537 583597
Algebra 501515596579
Geometry480 505587578
Data and Chance531560 580574
Korea and Singapore have balanced scores, the US and Minnesota do not. The first three areas are the core areas of mathematics on which otherthings are built. We have to improve on them.

Dick Askey

John Hechinger has more:

U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders improved their math scores in a closely watched international test, but continued to lag well behind peers from top-performing Asian countries. U.S. students also failed to show measurable gains in science.

The U.S. and other governments on Tuesday released the results of the test, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the world's largest assessment of international achievement. Some 425,000 students in almost 60 countries took the exam, administered every four years, starting in 1995.

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Ira David Socol on Teach for America, KIPP Schools, and Reforming Education


Today we present readers an in-depth interview with Ira David Socol, author of "The Drool Room" and the web site "SpeEdChange." Our interest in talking with Ira centered upon three critical factors.

First, there is little doubt that Ira is passionate about education and the process of learning. More importantly, that passion is relentlessly focused on creating a learning process that is responsive to the needs of learners.

Second, to be frank, Ira shares some of our views on how best to reform education. He notes that there are a multitude of ways to create positive learning opportunities for students but our current school structures prevent the flexibility necessary to provide alternate paths. Like, he is also a strong proponent of the use of technology yet does not buy into the "digital natives" nonsense.

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December 11, 2008

Informational and Community Discussion Sessions on the Madison Mathematics Task Force

Date: January 6th, 2009

Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Where: LaFollette High School - LMC
Date: January 7th, 2009

Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm

Where: Memorial High School - Wisconsin Neighborhood Center
You are cordially invited to attend an information session and discussion about the findings and recommendations of the Math Task Force which recently completed a review of the MMSD K-12 Mathematics program. Please also share this information with others who may be interested in attending.

At each session, there will be a brief informational presentation followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete Task Force Report can be found at

We are looking forward to sharing this information with you and learning about your reactions to the research and recommendations included in the report. Your thoughts are important to us as we work to improve the MMSD K-12 Mathematics program.

Questions/comments? Please contact Brian Sniff at

Looking forward to seeing you on January 6th or 7th.

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December 10, 2008

Scores on Science Test Causing Concern in U.S.

Maria Glod:

U.S. students are doing no better on an international science exam than they were in the mid-1990s, a performance plateau that leaves educators and policymakers worried about how schools are preparing students to compete in an increasingly global economy.

Results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), released yesterday, show how fourth- and eighth-graders in the United States measure up to peers around the world. U.S. students showed gains in math in both grades. But average science performance, although still stronger than in many countries, has stagnated since 1995.

Students in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong outperformed U.S. fourth-graders in science. The U.S. students had an average score of 539 on a 1,000-point scale, higher than their peers in 25 countries.

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December 4, 2008

Math Task Force Feedback Sessions Slated for January

Last year the MMSD School Board appointed a committee to look at the math curriculum in the district. The task force recently presented their findings to the School Board. We accepted their report and referred it to the Superintendent for recommendations. The next step in the process is a community input session.

Sessions were originally scheduled for December 8 and 9. Those sessions have been postponed until January in order to better publicize the sessions and avoid conflicts with holiday-season events. The dates have not yet been selected, and I will post the dates, places, and times when they have been confirmed.

If you want to comment directly on the math curriculum/task force recommendations, you can send e-mail or post here. I'll make sure the Superintendent receives your feedback.

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December 3, 2008

"Rice Paddies and Math Tests"

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
New York: Little, Brown, 2008, pp. 247-249
"Rice Paddies and Math Tests"

Every four years, an international group of educators administers a comprehensive mathematics and science test to elementary and junior high students around the world. It's the TIMSS...and the point of the TIMSS is to compare the educational achievement of one country with another's.

When students sit down to take the TIMSS exam, they also have to fill out a questionnaire. It asks them all kinds of questions, such as what their parents' level of education is, and what their views about math are, and what their friends are like. It's not a trivial exercise. It's about 120 questions long. In fact, it is so tedious and demanding that many students leave as many as ten or twenty questions blank.

Now, here's the interesting part. As it turns out, the average number of items answered on that questionnaire varies from country to country. It is possible, in fact, to rank all the participating countries according to how many items their students answer on the questionnaire. Now, what do you think happens if you compare the questionnaire rankings with the math rankings on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough to focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same countries whose students do the best job of solving math problems.

The person who discovered this fact is an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania named Erling Boe, and he stumbled across it by accident. "It came out of the blue," he says. Boe hasn't even been able to publish his findings in a scientific journal, because, he says, it's just a bit too weird. Remember, he's not saying that the ability to finish the questionnaire and the ability to excel on the math test are related. He's saying that they are the same: if you compare the two rankings, they are identical.

Think about this another way. Imagine that every year, there was a Math Olympics in some fabulous city in the world. And every country in the world sent its own team of one thousand eighth graders. Boe's point is that we could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in the Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measuring how hard they were willing to work. In fact, we wouldn't even have to give them a task. We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work.

So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn't surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. [Mainland China doesn't yet take part in the TIMSS study.] What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kind of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away in the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like "No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich."

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December 1, 2008

Community Forum - Math Task Force Recommendations

There will be 2 forums to receive community feedback on the Math Task Force report/recommendations.

* Monday, December 8 - 6:00-8:00pm at Memorial High School
* Tuesday, December 9 - 6:00-8:00pm at La Follette High School

There will be a brief presentation on the task force recommendations, followed by a break-out session for community feedback and comments.

The Superintendent will use the feedback and comments in developing his recommendations for the Board.

As a reminder, the Math Task Force info can be found at

Thank you.


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November 26, 2008

Study: Math teachers a chapter ahead of students

Libby Quaid:

Math can be hard enough, but imagine the difficulty when a teacher is just one chapter ahead of the students. It happens, and it happens more often to poor and minority students. Those children are about twice as likely to have math teachers who don't know their subject, according to a report by the Education Trust, a children's advocacy group.

Studies show the connection between teachers' knowledge and student achievement is particularly strong in math.

"Individual teachers matter a tremendous amount in how much students learn," said Ross Wiener, who oversees policy issues at the organization.

The report looked at teachers with neither an academic major nor certification in the subjects they teach.

Among the findings, which were based on Education Department data:
_In high-poverty schools, two in five math classes have teachers without a college major or certification in math.

_In schools with a greater share of African-American and Latino children, nearly one in three math classes is taught by such a teacher.

Math is important because it is considered a "gateway" course, one that leads to greater success in college and the workplace. Kids who finish Algebra II in high school are more likely to get bachelor's degrees. And people with bachelor's degrees earn substantially more than those with high school diplomas.

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Schools of Hope project aims to improve Madison students' algebra performance

Andy Hall:

Three weeks after its launch, the program at La Follette is operating smoothly, according to officials and students at the school.

Joe Gothard, who is in his second year as La Follette principal, said he sought to bring the tutoring program to the school to involve the community in raising achievement levels.

"We're not going to settle for our students of color to be unsuccessful," Gothard said.

Over the past several years, the school's African American students have been less likely than their peers to complete algebra by 10th grade, although in some years the rate still exceeds the overall average for African American students in the Madison School District.

Gothard is troubled by the patterns on another measure of student achievement, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, which show that the proportion of 10th graders demonstrating math proficiency ranks lower at La Follette than at any other major high school in Dane County. Just 53 percent of La Follette students received ratings of proficient or advanced on the test, compared to 65 percent in the district and 69 percent in the state.

"Initially there's that burning in your stomach," Gothard said, describing his reaction to such data, which was followed by a vow: "We are not going to accept going anywhere but up."

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November 25, 2008

Va. Math Standards' Bar Might Be Raised

Michael Birnbaum:

Kindergartners would be expected to be able to count to 100, not just to 30. Perimeter and area would be introduced and explored in third grade, instead of in second grade.

Those are among many proposed revisions to Virginia's math standards that are part of a national movement to strengthen and streamline math education to prepare all students to learn algebra and higher concepts.

The standards prescribe in detail concepts students are expected to learn in each grade, and the state verifies whether those expectations are met each year through the Standards of Learning tests. Now the standards are being revised for the second time since their introduction in 1995.

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November 23, 2008

Community Input on Math Task Force Recommendations - SAVE THE DATES!

Hi - there will be 2 community input forums to gather input from the community on the recommendations of the Math Task Force. The report of the MTF can be found at:

The forums are scheduled for:

Monday, December 8 from 6:00-8:00pm at Memorial High School

Tuesday, December 9 from 6:00-8:00pm at LaFollette High School

I am not sure of the format yet but know this is a busy time of year so wanted to give you an opportunity to mark your calendars if you plan on attending on of the forums. I'll send more information when available.


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November 11, 2008

Madison Business Employees Help Tutor Students; Local Reading Scores


Years after graduation, he's hearing the ring of the school bell at Sherman Middle School on Madison's north side.

"I've had an effect on a number of the kids' math scores," said Schmidt, 44, whose background is in computer software design. "I know they're doing better because they tell me they're doing better."

He said that he isn't happy to take the credit, which is something that almost has to be pulled out of him. But the five students who he tutors weekly in math as part of the "Schools of Hope" tutoring program sing his praises when he's out of the room.
"Monty's awesome," said seventh-grader Henrietta Allison.

"They know that when he comes in on Monday, he's going to be asking, 'Did you do your homework? What are you missing?'" said teacher Chrissy Mitlyng. "They expect that, and I think that's a really good relationship to have."

Teachers report that students who work with the tutors are more confident after their sessions, and are more likely to speak up in class and participate in group work. While classroom confidence might be the most notable impact, it trickles down to fill the racial achievement gap the program was designed to help close, WISC-TV reported.

In 1995, 28.5 percent of black students in the Madison Metropolitan School District tested below the minimal standard on the third grade reading test, along with 9.7 percent of Latino students, 24.2 percent of Asian students and 4.1 percent of white students.

Related: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed...and not before:
On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district's student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district's success in closing the academic achievement gap "based on race".

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, "for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we've reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap". Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level "is the original gap" that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.


What the superintendent is saying is that MMSD has closed the achievement gap associated with race now that roughly the same percentage of students in each subgroup score at the minimal level (limited achievement in reading, major misconceptions or gaps in knowledge and skills of reading). That's far from the original goal of the board. We committed to helping all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level as demonstrated by all students in all subgroups scoring at proficient or advanced reading levels on the WRCT.

More here and here.

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November 5, 2008

Start-Up Teaches Math to Americans, Indian-Style

Claire Cain Miller

The New York Times recently reported on a study that found, once again, that the United States is failing to develop the math skills of its students, particularly girls, especially compared to other countries where math education is more highly valued.

Indian Math Online is a start-up that aims to take on that disparity by teaching math to American kids using techniques from Indian schools.

Bob Compton, an Indianapolis-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur who co-founded Indian Math Online, hatched the idea when he was producing Two Million Minutes, a documentary comparing high school education in India, China and the United States. He realized that Indian teenagers who were the same age as his daughters were three years ahead of them in math.

"If you don't get mathematics to the highest level you possibly can in high school, your career options shrink dramatically in the 21st century," Mr. Compton said. "Our society basically tells girls they're not good at math. I was determined that was not going to happen to my daughters."

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November 3, 2008

A Letter to Jay Matthews

To Jay Matthews:

Let me suggest that Gerald Bracey is not an appropriate person to quote when dealing with mathematics education. First, it was TIMSS in 1995 rather than 1999 when students in the last year of high school were tested. Second, while some of our students who took the advanced math test had only had precalculus, all of them had studied geometry and we did worse in geometry than we did in calculus. Bracey never mentions this. Check the figures yourself to see the disastrous results in geometry.

We had 14% of our students take this test so the fact that some other countries did not test students in vocational tracts is irrelevant since they have a much larger fraction of their students in academic programs than 14%, as we do. About the ETS restudy, while they claim that the original sample was not comparable with other countries, their population was also not comparable with that of other countries. When you take the top say 7% of our students, judged by the courses they take which is not a perfect match but
not bad, and compare them with the top say 20% of the students in another country, that is not the same as comparing them with the top 7% in another country. ETS never mentions this in their press releases on this study.

Richard Askey

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Incentives Can Make Or Break Students

Bill Turque:

The inducements range from prepaid cellphones to MP3 players to gift certificates. But most of them are cash: $10 for New York City seventh-graders who complete a periodic test; $50 for Chicago high school freshmen who ace their courses; as much as $110 to Baltimore students for improved scores on the Maryland High School Assessments.

Desperate for ways to ratchet up test scores and close the achievement gap separating white and minority students, school officials from Tucson to Boston are paying kids who put up good numbers.

The District joined the list this fall, launching a one-year study of 3,300 middle schoolers who can earn up to $100 every two weeks for good grades, behavior and attendance. On Oct. 17, the first payday for the Capital Gains program, students collected an average of $43.

The efforts vary widely in scope and objective. But nearly all trigger pa

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October 30, 2008

Beautiful Math


NARRATOR: You can find it in the rain forest, on the frontiers of medical research, in the movies, and it's all over the world of wireless communications. One of nature's biggest design secrets has finally been revealed.

GEOFFREY WEST (Santa Fe Institute): My god, of course. It's obvious.

NARRATOR: It's an odd-looking shape you may never have heard of, but it's everywhere around you: the jagged repeating form called a fractal.

JAMES BROWN (University of New Mexico): They're all over in biology. They're solutions that natural selection has come up with over and over and over again.

NARRATOR: Fractals are in our lungs, kidneys and blood vessels.

KEITH DEVLIN (Stanford University): Flowers, plants, weather systems, the rhythms of the heart, the very essences of life.

NARRATOR: But it took a maverick mathematician to figure out how they work.

BENOIT MANDELBROT (Yale University): I don't play with formulas, I play with pictures. And that is what I've been doing all my life.

John Tierney has more.

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October 23, 2008

Counting on the Future: International Benchmarks in Mathematics for American School Districts

Dr. Gary W. Phillips & John A. Dossey [2.5MB PDF Report]:

Students in six major U.S. cities are performing on par or better in mathematics than their peers in other countries in grades 4 and 8, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). However, students from five other major cities are not faring as well, and overall, U.S. student performance in mathematics falls off from elementary to middle school grades -- and remains behind many industrialized nations, particularly Asian nations.

The AIR study offers the first comparison between students from large U.S. cities and their international peers. The study compares U.S. 4th grade students with their counterparts in 24 countries and 8th grade students with peers in 45 countries.

"Globalization is not something we can hold off or turn is the economic equivalent of a force of nature... like the wind and water" (Bill Clinton)

If you are a student today competing for jobs in a global economy, the good jobs will not go to the best in your graduating class--the jobs will go to the best students in the world. Large urban cities are intimately connected to the nations of the world. Large corporations locate their businesses in U.S. cities; foreign students attend U.S. schools; and U.S. businesses export goods and services to foreign nations. Large urban cities need to know how their students stack up against peers in the nations with which the U.S. does business. This is especially important for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The students in these fields will allow our future generation to remain technologically innovative and economically competitive.

This report provides a comparison of the number of mathematically Proficient students in Grades 4 and 8 in 11 large cities in the United States with their international peers.

This comparison is made possible by statistically linking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2003 and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2003 when both assessments were conducted in the United States in the same year and in the same grades.

After the statistical linking was completed, it was possible to compare the most recent NAEP results (from 2007) to the most recent TIMSS results (from 2003). How the United States compares to the overall international average.

At Grade 4, five countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and the Flemish portion of Belgium) performed significantly better than the United States (Figure 1). However, the United States (at 39% proficiency) performed better than the international average (27% proficiency) of all 24 countries (Figure 13).

At Grade 8, eight countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Belgium (Flemish), Netherlands, and Hungary) performed significantly better than the United States (Figure 1). However, the United States (at 31% proficiency) performed better than the international average (21% proficiency) of all 44 countries (Figure 14).


Because of the persistent requests of urban school districts, the U .S . Congress authorized NAEP to assess, on a trial basis, six large urban school districts beginning in 2002 . Since then, more districts have been added, resulting in 11 school districts in 2007 (and plans are underway to include even more districts in the future) . The urban school chiefs in these 11 large school districts, which voluntarily participated in the 2007 NAEP, recognized the global nature of educational expectations and the importance of having reliable external data against which to judge the performance of their students and to hold themselves accountable . They should be commended for their visionary goal of trying to benchmark their local performance against tough national standards. National standards provide a broad context and an external compass with which to steer educational policy to benefit local systems . The purpose of this report is to further help those systems navigate by providing international benchmarks.

Clusty Search: Gary W. Phillips and John A. Dossey.

Greg Toppo has more:

Even if the findings are less-than-stellar, he says, they should help local officials focus on improving results.

"In that sense, I think it could be a very positive thing to use in-house, in the district, to keep their nose to the grindstone," says Kepner, a former middle- and high-school math teacher in Iowa and Wisconsin."If they can show they're improving, they might be able to attract more companies to a system that's on the move."

Phillips says the findings prove that in other countries "it is possible to do well and learn considerably under a lot of varied circumstances -- in other words, being low-income is not really an excuse when you look around the rest of the world."

Math Forum audio & video.

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October 22, 2008

Doggie Biscuit for Kohn: Author rips testing, other sacred classroom concepts

By Lisa Schencker:

Rising test scores are no reason to celebrate, author Alfie Kohn told teachers at the Utah Education Association (UEA) convention on Friday.

Schools that improve test scores do so at the expense of other subjects and ideas, he said.

"When the scores go up, it's not just meaningless. It's worrisome," Kohn told hundreds of educators on the last day of the convention. "What did you sacrifice from my child's education to raise scores on the test?"

Kohn, who's written 11 books on human behavior, parenting and schools, spent nearly two hours Friday morning ripping into both established and relatively new education concepts. He slammed merit pay for teachers, competition in schools, Advanced Placement classes, curriculum standards and testing--including Utah's standards and testing system -- drawing mixed reactions from his audience.

"Considering what we hear a lot, it was pure blasphemy," said Richard Heath, a teacher at Central Davis Junior High School in Layton.

Kohn called merit pay--forms of which many Utah school districts are implementing this year--an "odious" type of control imposed on teachers.

"If you jump through hoops, we'll give you a doggie biscuit in the form of money," Kohn said.

He said competition in schools destroys their sense of community. Advanced Placement classes, he claimed, focus more on material but don't do much to deepen students' understanding. He said standardized tests are designed so that some students must always fail or they're considered too easy, and often the students who do poorly are members of minority groups.

"We are creating in this country before our eyes, little by little, what could be described as educational ethnic cleansing," Kohn said. He called Utah's standards too specific and the number of tests given to Utah students "mind-boggling."

He called on teachers to explain such problems to parents and community members.

"The best teachers spend every day of their lives strategically avoiding or subverting the Utah curriculum," Kohn said.

Many teachers said they agreed with much of Kohn's talk, but disagreed on some points.

Shauna Cooney, a second grade teacher at Majestic Elementary School in Ogden, said it's important to have standards that give all children equal opportunities to learn certain concepts before they move forward.

Sidni Jones, an elementary teacher mentor in the Davis School District, agreed that current standardized tests are not as meaningful as other types of assessment, but she said it is hard to fight the current system.

"You can't just openly rebel against standardized testing because they're mandated," Jones said. "That's part of our jobs."

Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, who is also a special education teacher at Taylorsville High School, said he walked out of the speech.

"We have got to have some degree of accountability for the public," Holdaway said. "The public demands it. Sometimes we forget who our customers are in terms of children and families."

Others, however, largely agreed with Kohn.

"It was awesome," said Claudia Butter, a teacher at the Open Classroom (good grief, are there still Open Classroom schools around??? Lord help us!) charter school in Salt Lake City. "With little steps we might be able to effect a change."

UEA President Kim Campbell said the UEA doesn't necessarily agree with everything Kohn advocates, but chose him as the keynote speaker because of his thought-provoking ideas.

"We want our members to constantly be challenging themselves and be thinking about new ideas and what they're doing in the classroom," Campbell said.

some of Alfie Kohn's books: The Homework Myth; What Does it Mean to Be Well Educated?, And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies; Punished by Rewards; No Contest: The Case Against Competition; The Case Against Standardized Testing; Beyond Discipline, etc.]

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October 19, 2008

The End of French Math Supremacy?

The Economist:

The purity of mathematics loses its prestige

FRANCE may think of itself as a literary society, but real prestige is reserved for mathematics. Excellence in maths determines access to the elite, via ultra-selective grandes écoles such as the École Nationale d'Administration or the Polytechnique. More French mathematicians have won the Fields Medal, a top international prize, than those from any other European country. Top maths graduates working in French banks have pioneered some of the market's most complex equity derivatives. So there has been some head-scratching at the idea that Xavier Darcos, the education minister, is now considering an end to the pre-eminence of maths in the baccalauréat school-leaving exam.

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October 16, 2008

Problems Without Figures For Fourth to Eighth Grade

A Math book for "High Schools and Normal Schools by S.Y. Gillan [9.6MB PDF]:

Arithmetic can be so taught as to make the pupil familiar with thc fact that we may use a number in a problem without knowing what particular number it is. Some of the fundamentals of algebra may thus be taught along with arithmetic. But, as a rule, whenever any attempt is made to do this the work soon develops or degenerates into formal algebra, with a full quota of symbolism, generalization and formulae -- matter which is not wholesome pabulum for a child's mind and the result has been that teachers have given up the effort and have returned to the use of standardized knowledge put up in separate packages like baled hay, one bale labeled "arithmetic," another "algebra," etc.

Every problem in arithmetic calls for two distinct and widely different kinds of work: first, the solution, which involves a comprehension of the conditions of the problem and their relation to one another; second, the operation. First we
decide what to do; this requires reasoning. Then we do the work; this is a merely mechanical process, and the more mechanical the better. A calculating machine, too stupid to make a mistake, will do the work more accurately than a
skillful accountant. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing do not train the power to reason, but deciding in a given set of conditions which of these operations to use and why, is the feature of arithmetic which requires reasoning.

The problems offered here will furnish material to promote thinking; and a few minutes daily used in this kind of work will greatly strengthen the pupils' power to deal with the problems given in the textbook.

After consultation with teachers, the author decided to print the problems without regard to classification. They range all the way from very simple work suitable for beginners up to a standard adapted to the needs of eighth grade pupils. As a review in high school and normal school classes the problems may be taken in order as they come, and will be found Interesting and stimulating. For pupils in the grades, the teacher will Indicate which ones to omit; this discrimination will be a valuable exercise for the teacher.

A few "catch problems" are put in to entrap the unwary. To stumble occasionally into a pitfall makes a pupil more watchful of his steps and gives invigorating exercise in regaining his footing. The groove runner thus learns to use his wits and see the difference between a legitimate problem and an absurdity.

It is recommended that these exercises be used as sight work, the pupils having the book in hand and the teacher designating the problems to be solved without previous preparation.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 21, 1910.

Many thanks to Dick Askey for providing a copy (the!) of this book.

From the book:

To answer in good, concise English, affords an excellent drill in clear thinking and accurate expression. This one is suitable for high school, normal school and university students, some of whom will flounder in a most ludicrous fashion when they first attempt to give a clear-cut answer conforming to the demands of mathematics and good English.

224. After a certain battle the surgeon sawed off several wagon loads of legs. If you are told the number of legs in each load and the .price of a cork leg, how can you find the expense of supplying these men with artificial legs? Writeout a list of twenty other expense items incurred in the fighting of a battle.

225. The American people spend each year for war much more than for education. If you know the total amount spent for each purpose, how can you find the per capita expense for war and for schools?

227. A boy travels from Boston to Seattle in a week. Every day at noon he meets a mail train going east on which he mails a letter to his mother in Boston. If there is no delay, how frequently should she receive his letters?

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October 15, 2008

Amusing, but Not Funny

Bob Herbert:

Sara Rimer of The Times wrote an article last week that gave us a startling glimpse of just how mindless and self-destructive the U.S. is becoming.

Consider the lead paragraph:

"The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued."

The idea that the U.S. won't even properly develop the skills of young people who could perform at the highest intellectual levels is breathtaking -- breathtakingly stupid, that is.

The authors of the study, published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, concluded that American culture does not value talent in math very highly. I suppose we're busy with other things, like text-messaging while jay-walking. The math thing is seen as something for Asians and nerds.

Related: Math Forum.

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October 13, 2008

On College Level Math in High School

Valerie Strauss:

For Gifted Few, Moving Beyond Calculus

It would be hard to find a more advanced math class in public schools than the one Robert Sachs teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

That's because it isn't really high school math.

Complex Variables is usually taught to college juniors and seniors. It is offered at selective Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County because students demand the challenge.

"This class is pretty difficult," said Bobbie Pelham Webb, 17, a senior. "It is one of the first math classes that is challenging to me. Calculus was easy."

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October 10, 2008

Janet Mertz Study: Math Skills Suffer in US, Study Finds

Carolyn Johnson:

It's been nearly four years since Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, made his controversial comments about the source of the gender gap in math and science careers. Still, the ripple effect continues - most recently in a study made public today on the world's top female math competitors.

The study, to be published in next month's Notices of the American Mathematical Society, identifies women of extraordinary math ability by sifting through the winners of the world's most elite math competitions. It found that small nations that nurtured female mathematicians often produced more top competitors than far larger and wealthier nations.

The message: Cultural or environmental factors, not intellect, are what really limit women's math achievements.

Sara Rimer:
The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.

The study suggests that while many girls have exceptional talent in math -- the talent to become top math researchers, scientists and engineers -- they are rarely identified in the United States. A major reason, according to the study, is that American culture does not highly value talent in math, and so discourages girls -- and boys, for that matter -- from excelling in the field. The study will be published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

"We're living in a culture that is telling girls you can't do math -- that's telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math," said the study's lead author, Janet E. Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose son is a winner of what is viewed as the world's most-demanding math competitions. "Kids in high school, where social interactions are really important, think, 'If I'm not an Asian or a nerd, I'd better not be on the math team.' Kids are self selecting. For social reasons they're not even trying."

Many studies have examined and debated gender differences and math, but most rely on the results of the SAT and other standardized tests, Dr. Mertz and many mathematicians say. But those tests were never intended to measure the dazzling creativity, insight and reasoning skills required to solve math problems at the highest levels, Dr. Mertz and others say.

Dr. Mertz asserts that the new study is the first to examine data from the most difficult math competitions for young people, including the USA and International Mathematical Olympiads for high school students, and the Putnam Mathematical Competition for college undergraduates. For winners of these competitions, the Michael Phelpses and Kobe Bryants of math, getting an 800 on the math SAT is routine. The study found that many students from the United States in these competitions are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries where education in mathematics is prized and mathematical talent is thought to be widely distributed and able to be cultivated through hard work and persistence.

Complete report 650K PDF.

Related: Math Forum.

Much more on Janet Mertz here.

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October 5, 2008

What Do College Students Know? By this professor's calculations, math skills have plummeted

Stephen Wilson:

Professors are constantly asked if their students are better or worse today than in the past. I conducted an experiment to try to answer that question for one group of students.

For my fall 2006 course, Calculus I for the Biological and Social Sciences at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), I administered the same final exam I had used for the course in the fall of 1989. The SAT mathematics (SATM) scores of the two classes were nearly identical, and the classes contained approximately the same percentage of the Arts and Sciences freshman class.

The content of the calculus I course had not changed and, from a math standpoint, using the old exam was completely appropriate.

The average exam score for my 2006 calculus I class was significantly lower than for my 1989 class. Comparing the effects of scaling in the two years reveals the extent of the decline. In my 1989 class, 27 percent of students received As on the test and 23 percent Bs. When I graded my 2006 class on my 2006 scale, 32 percent received As and 37 percent Bs. But if I instead graded my 2006 class on the 1989 scale, only 6 percent would have received As and 21 percent Bs. If I graded the 1989 class on the 2006 scale, 52 percent would have received As and 26 percent Bs.

Why did my 2006 class perform so poorly? With the proliferation of AP calculus in high school, one might think that the good students of 2006 place out of calculus I more frequently than did their 1989 counterparts. However, in 1989, 30 percent of the Arts and Sciences freshmen either took the harder engineering calculus course or a higher level mathematics course (calculus II or III, linear algebra, or differential equations). The percentage in 2006 is only 24 percent.

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No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools

Julie Greenberg and Kate Walsh, National Council on Teacher Quality1.5MB PDF:

American students' chronically poor performance in mathematics on international tests may begin in the earliest grades, handicapped by the weak knowledge of mathematics of their own elementary teachers. NCTQ looks at the quality of preparation provided by a representative sampling of institutions in nearly every state. We also provide a test developed by leading mathematicians which assesses for the knowledge that elementary teachers should acquire during their preparation. Imagine the implications of an elementary teaching force being able to pass this test.

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October 3, 2008

American Math Chuckleheads

Rich Karlgaard:

I got an e-mail titled "An Angry American With An Idea." This e-mail must have gone viral, because I received it a half-dozen times. You probably got it too. Here is what it said:
"I'm against the $85,000,000,000 bailout of AIG. Instead, I'm in favor of giving $85,000,000,000 to America in a 'We Deserve It Dividend.' To make the math simple, let's assume there are 200,000,000 bona fide U.S. Citizens 18+. Our population is about 301,000,000 +/-, counting every man, woman and child. So 200,000,000 might be a fair stab at adults 18 and up. So divide 200 million adults 18+ into $85 billion. That equals $425,000. My plan is to give $425,000 to every person 18+ as a 'We Deserve It Dividend.' "
The letter goes on and describes the many wonderful things that could happen in America if each adult had an extra $425,000.

Now the funny part. Friends and colleagues--they shall remain anonymous--who passed this e-mail along would append a note: "You should read this." "This actually makes sense."

Not once did anyone point out the Angry American's wee calculation flaw. Eighty-five billion dollars divided by 200 million people is $425, not $425,000.

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September 30, 2008

Buffett's Chinese Investment: Seeking Engineers

Keith Bradsher:

MidAmerican also sees promise in BYD's battery technologies for storing wind energy and solar energy, Mr. Sokol said. Difficulties in storing energy for when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining have limited the deployment of these renewable energy technologies.

More broadly, Berkshire Hathaway wants to tap into China's engineering talent and is doing so through BYD, which has 11,000 engineers and technicians among its 130,000 employees.

Mr. Buffett did not attend the news conference, but said in a statement that he was impressed with Mr. Wang's record as a manager.

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India's Cram-School Confidential: Two Years, One Test, 40,000 Students

Eric Bellman:

Town Fills With Teens Studying Full-Time For a College Entrance Exam; 'Bansalites Rock'

KOTA, India -- Hoping to boost his chances of getting into a top college, Rohit Agarwal quit his high school and left home.

The 16-year-old moved from the far northeast corner of India in June, with two suitcases and a shoulder bag. He took a two-hour flight and a six-hour train ride to the dusty town of Kota, India's cram-school capital.

More than 40,000 students show up in the arid state of Rajasthan every year, looking to attend one of the 100-plus coaching schools here. These intensive programs, which are separate from regular high school, prepare students for college-entrance exams. In Kota, most of the schools focus on the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology.

The seven IITs nationwide are statistically tougher to get into than Harvard or Cambridge. While around 310,000 students took the entrance exam this April, only the top 8,600 were accepted. A whopping one-third of those winners in the current academic year passed through Kota's cramming regimen.

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September 29, 2008

DCPAC Dan Nerad Meeting Summary

A video tape of the entire presentation and discussion with Dr. Nerad may be viewed by visiting this internet link: madison_superin_10.php

Dan Nerad opened his remarks by stating his commitment to efforts for always continuing change and improvement with the engagement of the community. He outlined four areas of focus on where we are going from here.

  1. Funding: must balance district needs and taxpayer needs. He mentioned the referendum to help keep current programs in place and it will not include "new" things.
  2. Strategic Plan: this initiative will formally begin in January 2009 and will involve a large community group process to develop as an ongoing activity.
  3. Meet people: going throughout the community to meet people on their own terms. He will carefully listen. He also has ideas.
  4. Teaching and learning mission: there are notable achievement gaps we need to face head-on. The "achievement gap" is serious. The broader mission not only includes workforce development but also helping students learn to be better people. We have a "tale of two school districts" - numbers of high achievers (including National Merit Scholars), but not doing well with a lot of other students. Low income and minority students are furtherest away from standards that must be met. Need to be more transparent with the journey to fix this problem and where we are not good. Must have the help of the community. The focus must be to improve learning for ALL kids, it is a "both/and" proposition with a need to reframe the issue to help all kids move forward from where they are. Must use best practices in contemporary assessment, curriculum, pedagogy and instructional methods.
Dr. Nerad discussed five areas about which he sees a need for community-wide conversations for how to meet needs in the district.
  1. Early learning opportunities: for pre-kindergarten children. A total community commitment is needed to prevent the 'achievement gap' from widening.
  2. High schools: How do we want high schools to be? Need to be more responsive. The curriculum needs to be more career oriented. Need to break down the 'silos' between high school, tech schools and colleges. Need to help students move through the opportunities differently. The Small Learning Communities Grant recently awarded to the district for high schools and with the help of the community will aid the processes for changes in the high schools.
  3. School safety: there must be an on-going commitment for changes. Nerad cited three areas for change:
    a. A stronger curriculum helping people relate with other people, their differences and conflicts.

    b. A response system to safety. Schools must be the safest of sanctuaries for living, learning and development.

    c.Must make better use of research-based technology that makes sense.
  4. Math curriculum and instruction: Cited the recent Math Task Force Report
    a. Good news: several recommendations for curriculum, instruction and policies for change.

    b. Bad news: our students take less math than other urban schools in the state; there are notable differences in the achievement gap.
  5. Fine Arts: Cited recent Fine Arts Task Force Report. Fine arts curriculum and activities in the schools, once a strength, has been whittled away due to budget constraints. We must deal with the 'hands of the clock' going forward and develop a closer integration of the schools and community in this area.

Dr. Nerad introduced Mr. Erik Kass, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services who made the following remarks:

  1. He is leading the management team in a revisit of the budget model and looking at the financial system; how the district does business; and, how effectively are we spending the money.
  2. He will be looking to the city and county for partnerships and shared services
  3. His mission with the Board of Education and the public is to present information in ways which ensure that information is accurate, honest, understandable and accessible.
Following are questions and comments from DCPAC members and guests with responses from Dr. Nerad.
  1. John Pinto: a) what if the referendum fails? [Nerad: engage the community in priorities. He has an idea list of cuts, but is not sure if those are cuts in the right places.] b) how to get teachers less into 'politics' and more into school? [Nerad: there is a need to separate the work of teachers from politics in the schools. Continuing professional development in teaching and learning and by encouraging new teachers who make teaching their 'first' career choice.]
  2. Nancy Mistele: a) urged engaging former board members and other community people with historical perspectives, expertise, etc. to offer the district; b) Fund 41 a good idea. [Nerad: the benefit of Fund 41 will be to reduce the negative impact on the Madison property tax payers for state aid and Fund 80 will reduce the amount of tax authority outside the revenue caps]; c) what does it cost to educate a child in this state and what does it cost not to educate children properly? [Nerad: The answer to those questions are very complex and involve community priorities and the state legislature engaging in proactive efforts.]
  3. Don Severson: What are your thoughts and plans for cost/benefits/results analyses of programs and services on both sides of the house--educational and business? [Nerad: Outcome assessments should be tied to the strategic plan. He is very much interested in program evaluation - what is the cost and how it is done. He believes application of experimental research methodology for program assessment is questionable.]
  4. Jonathon Barry: Stated his thanks to Dr. Nerad for his clear enunciation of the issues and directions. Barry remarked about his involvement with the :Fresh Start" program. There are 4000 disconnected youth in our area. Stated that MMSD will not contract with Fresh Start and that the Madison Teachers contract is a barrier to the issue. [Nerad: will contact Barry to set up a meeting. He needs to evaluate and determine where the district is with alternative programs. The principals are asking for help. We need more alternatives--it is all about students.]
  5. Judy Reed: She is the principal of the Dane County Transition School, not associated with MMSD, but believes there also should be a working arrangement. Relationships are the key with the disconnected kids. Asked why does there need to be one dropout? [Nerad: will contact Reed to arrange a meeting.]
  6. Gary Schmerler: Requested consideration for MMSD involvement in the county consortium for charter schools. [Nerad: he has asked that MMSD be at the table for the consortium dealing with career-based alternatives. He raised the question for further discussion as to: why do people want charters and how can we be more responsive in our programming in the district?"]
  7. Phil Salkin: Suggested Nerad and others connect with for a statewide initiative underway to look at funding for education in Wisconsin and how individuals and groups can participate in that effort. He stated it was refreshing to hear about the initiatives for cost analyses, workforce development, etc., but the community and state must provide funding for education.
  8. Chan Stroman: Stated that the district and community can't continue to excuse the problem of school safety fixes until school finance is fixed. She also stated that it does cost more to educate students from low-income families and for special needs students.
  9. Dave Glomp: Expressed thanks to Nerad as a: breath of fresh air" and for his transparency. Requested the district to address the teacher contract as out of sync, collaborative, with the budget process. [Nerad: he will look at all of that. Also stated that teaching needs to be a profession of first choice. There also needs to be more of a balance of male and female teachers, especially at the elementary level.]
Final statement by Dr. Nerad: He is committed to keep communications open and the community engaged in the issues and problem resolutions. He urged individuals and the group to communicate with him their suggestions and needs.


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September 25, 2008

Kiselev's Geometry: Book II, Stereometry

Alexander Givental, via email:

The Stereometry book adapted from Russian by A. Givental is the second part of the legendary Kiselev's Geometry. It first appeared in 1892 as a second half of a single textbook and, for a long time, the two co-existed between the same covers. Indeed, the idea of a plane was introduced on page 1 while the last chapter of the book (that followed the stereometry part) was devoted to the geometric constructions in two dimensions. Kiselev's Geometry has demonstrated an unusual staying power, being in an uninterrupted circulation for a good part of a century. (For the historic outline, see the review of the first part.) As a matter of fact, the first part of the book met with stiffer competition so that, while its rule was weakened in the 1960s, the second part reigned in the textbook market well into the 1970s.

The combined 1980 edition came out under the title Elementary Geometry for teacher colleges with a Foreward by A. N. Tikhonov who observed, albeit with some reservations, that the pedagogical mastery with which the book was written, the simplicity and consistency of the exposition, kept the book from becoming obsolete.

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September 22, 2008

California's new 8th-grade algebra rule gets some poor marks

Howard Blume:

The new state policy of requiring algebra in the eighth grade will set up unprepared students for failure while holding back others with solid math skills, a new report has concluded.

These predictions, based on national data, come in the wake of an algebra mandate that the state Board of Education, under pressure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, adopted in July. That decision won widespread praise from some reform advocates and the Bush administration, putting California out front in a national debate over improving mathematics instruction.

The policy also led to a lawsuit filed this month by groups representing school districts and school administrators. They contend that the state board adopted the new rules illegally. Their underlying concern is that the algebra policy is unworkable and unfunded.

The new study, released today by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., looked at who is taking eighth-grade algebra and how they are doing.

And there was some ostensibly good news. Nationwide, more students are taking algebra than before. Over five years, the percentage of eighth-graders in advanced math -- algebra or higher -- went up by more than one-third. In total, about 37% of all U.S. students took advanced math in 2005, the most recent year in the analysis.

More here and here.

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The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra

Tom Loveless:

Algebra in eighth grade was once reserved for the mathematically gifted student. In 1990, very few eighth graders, about one out of six, were enrolled in an algebra course. As the decade unfolded, leaders began urging schools to increase that number. President Clinton lamented, "Around the world, middle students are learning algebra and geometry. Here at home, just a quarter of all students take algebra before high school."1 The administration made enrolling all children in an algebra course by eighth grade a national goal. In a handbook offering advice to middle school students on how to plan for college, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley urged, "Take algebra beginning in the eighth grade and build from there."2 Robert Moses ratcheted up the significance of the issue by labeling algebra "The New Civil Right," thereby highlighting the social consequences of so many poor and minority students taking remedial and general math courses instead of algebra.3

The campaign was incredibly successful. Several urban school districts declared a goal of algebra for all eighth graders. In 1996, the District of Columbia led the nation with 53 percent of eighth graders enrolled in algebra. From 1990 to 2000, national enrollment in algebra courses soared from 16 percent to 24 percent of all eighth graders.

The surge continued into the next decade. Eighth-grade enrollment in algebra hit 31 percent nationally in 2007, a near doubling of the 1990 proportion. Today more U.S. eighth graders take algebra than any other math course.4 In July 2008, the State of California decided to adopt an algebra test as its eighth-grade assessment of student proficiency. The policy in effect mandates that all eighth graders will be enrolled in algebra by 2011.

Related from Jay Matthews.

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Recalculating The 8th-Grade Algebra Rush

Jay Matthews:

Nobody writing about schools has been a bigger supporter of getting more students into eighth-grade algebra than I have been. I wrote a two-part series for the front page six years ago that pointed out how important it is to be able to handle algebra's abstractions and unknown quantities before starting high school. I have argued that we should rate middle schools by the percentage of students who complete Algebra I by eighth grade.

Now, because of a startling study being released today, I am having second thoughts.

Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, has looked at the worst math students, those scoring in the bottom 10th on the National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth-grade test. He discovered that 28.6 percent of them -- let me make that clear: nearly three out of every 10 -- were enrolled in first-year algebra, geometry or second-year algebra. Almost all were grossly misplaced, probably because of the push to get kids into algebra sooner.

The report (to be available at ) reprints this simple NAEP problem:

There were 90 employees in a company last year. This year the number of employees increased by 10 percent. How many employees are in the company this year?

A) 9

B) 81

C) 91

D) 99

E) 100

The correct answer is D. Ten percent of 90 is 9. Add that to 90 and you get 99. How many of the misplaced students got it right? Just 9.8 percent. Not good.

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September 20, 2008

Cultivating Algebra Enthusiasm

Michael Alison Chandler:

"Nothing like a little math to wake you up in the morning," teacher Tricia Colclaser said this month after a taxing round of word problems.

Abstract math is not known for its stirring effect on U.S. teenagers. But algebra is viewed as increasingly essential for students preparing for college or careers in a fast-changing, technology-based economy. Some advocates call it the new literacy.

Strengthening the math abilities of all students is a steep challenge. Educators must reinforce basic concepts early on, attract teachers talented enough to go beyond dictating formulas, and, not least, overcome an anti-math bias many students harbor long into adulthood, that all the hours spent mixing letters and numbers yield more punishment than possibility.

How hard can it be?

The question led this education reporter back to high school to try again, as a student in Colclaser's class. To prepare, I reviewed a recent version of Virginia's Algebra II Standards of Learning exam. The 50 questions conjured a familiar wave of anxiety but little actual math. I then fumbled through a state Algebra I test, getting at most 10 answers right.

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September 12, 2008

When Achievement Push Comes to Shove

Jay Matthews:

We have some of the top schools in the country in Arlington County. Is there some point with our children at which we could back off and not continue to push for rising achievement, an official goal of the county schools? Is there a way we can say, good enough is good enough?

My oldest son is in middle school. He is a talented but not gifted math student. Midway through this past school year, it was clear that he was not ready for algebraic thinking, and his seventh-grade math teacher compassionately helped us help him decide to move back to a more appropriate math level. Because I teach human development, I was able to help him understand that this wasn't about being dumb, but a developmental marker he had not yet hit. He moved back to repeat the math class he took last year.

Now I have a boy who is not enthusiastic about math. He doesn't believe he is good at it and doesn't think math is fun, all because we want rising achievement for all students.

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September 11, 2008

WHERE WE STAND: America's Schools in the 21st Century

Via a kind reader's email:

Monday, September 15th
9:00 p.m. on Milwaukee Public Television (Channel 10)
11:00 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television stations

In 1995, America's college graduation rate was second in the world. Ten years later, it ranked 15th. As so many nations around the world continue to improve their systems of education, America can no longer afford to maintain the status quo. In an ever-changing, increasingly competitive global economy, is the U.S. doing all it can to prepare its students to enter the workforce of the 21st century and ensure our country's place as a world leader?

WHERE WE STAND: America's Schools in the 21st Century examines the major challenges for U.S. schools in the face of a changing world. Divided into five segments, topics include globalization; measuring student progress; ensuring that all students achieve; the current school funding system, and teacher quality.

WHERE WE STAND is airing at a critical time in our country's history. Along with its companion website and a variety of dynamic outreach activities across the country, the program will inspire a national dialogue in the weeks prior to the November elections. Nationally recognized education experts and leading proponents of educational reform will put these examples in context. They include Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone; Diane Ravitch, education historian; Wendy Puriefoy, President of Public Education Network; Chester Finn, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute; Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, AEI; Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity; and Sharon Lynn Kagan, Associate Dean for Policy, Teacher's College at Columbia University.

WHERE WE STAND introduces students, parents, teachers and administrators whose stories illustrate the overwhelming odds and shining successes of education in America. They include Bin Che, an educator from mainland China who teaches Mandarin in rural Ohio; Cherese Clark, principal of a high-poverty school struggling under the pressure of low test scores; Alex Perry, who, at age 16, has already taken three college-level math classes, and Finnish exchange student Anne Kuittinen, who earns no school credit for her year in the U.S. despite her straight-A record.

Hosted by Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the documentary visits a range of socioeconomic and geographic school districts. The program features schools in Ohio, an important swing state, but this program is about all of our schools and where they stand.

Where We Stand: America's Schools in the 21st Century companion website ( <> ) launches on September 15th in conjunction with the premiere. The program can be streamed in its entirety online.

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How One's 'Number Sense' Helps With Mathematics

Rob Stein:

Scientists have for the first time established a link between a primitive, intuitive sense of numbers and performance in math classes, a finding that could lead to new ways to help children struggling in school.

A study involving 64 14-year-olds found that the teenagers who did well on a test that measured their "number sense" were much more likely to have gotten good grades in math classes.

"We discovered that a child's ability to quickly estimate how many things are in a group significantly predicts their performance in school mathematics all the way back to kindergarten," said Justin Halberda, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University who led the research, published online yesterday by the journal Nature. "It was very surprising."

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School District Steps Back from Controversial Math Curriculum

Janese Heavin via a kind reader's email:

Columbia Public Schools' chief academic officer said the district is ready to compromise with the community when it comes to elementary math. But Sally Beth Lyon, who oversees district curricula, stopped short of saying concepts-based math would be replaced by a more traditional program.

"We're going to figure out how to get something done so we can all move forward," she told the Tribune. "We're still at the table and will discuss the best way to move forward and include and acknowledge the community concerns we're hearing."

Lyon's comments followed last night's Board of Education meeting, where board member Ines Segert accused the district of appointing people to district math committees who are biased toward investigative math programs and not appointing mathematicians who favor more traditional math instruction.

Segert cited three University of Missouri math education professors who serve on district committees and have received grant funds to train Columbia teachers how to use concepts-based math materials. "They instruct teachers in a certain ideology that happens to be used in these textbooks we have in class," said Segert, a vocal advocate of returning traditional math to classrooms.

Lyon's comments followed what was almost a scolding from board member Ines Segert during last night's board meeting. Segert criticized the district for appointing math education professors on math committees who seem to benefit from investigative math curriculum. She also accused the district of giving people incomplete data and summaries that skew results to justify current practices.

Lyon denied that anyone making curricula decisions receive district dollars. Any grant money they get comes from federal and state sources, she said.

Related: Madison School District Math Task Force Discussion.

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September 9, 2008

Madison Schools' Math Task Force Discussion

25MB mp3 audio file from the September 8, 2008 meeting.


Complete 3.9MB PDF Report

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September 8, 2008

Prince William County, Maryland Pupils Still Grapple With Math Test

Ian Shapira:

New state test results show that Prince William County's third-graders are struggling to score at the highest level since the implementation of a controversial math program that was intended to boost performance.

The scores, which are the first state Standards of Learning (SOL) results to gauge the new program's effectiveness, reveal that fewer than half of Prince William's third-graders scored in the advanced category this year, the first that the Pearson math program "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space" was taught in that grade. Last year, third-graders who had not begun "Investigations" posted the same results.

The flat scores are a sizable decline since 2006, when 56 percent of third-graders reached the advanced level in math.

" 'Investigations' didn't cure the problem," said Vern Williams, a Fairfax County teacher and former member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel who was invited by the Prince William School Board to speak at its work session later this month.