Archives for February 2004

Bouncing math lessons

Everyday Math raises test scores, says Teacher Magazine, but many parents and teachers don’t like it. In New York City, all but the most successful schools are required to use the program.

Instead of teaching standard ways to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, and long division and then drilling students with worksheets, teachers present several options for solving problems and encourage kids to use those that make sense to them. Rather than spend weeks or a single class on one subject, lessons bounce around, covering several areas in an hour. Computation is practiced by playing games, and students must continually explain why they’re solving problems in the ways they’ve chosen.

. . . Yet for many parents, the program, which refutes the back-to-basics approach that became popular in the 1970s, has been a hard sell. Despite his daughter’s aptitude for math, Dooley says that she’s confused. “They’re teaching all these different methods,” he explains, the anger rising in his voice. “Now when she does division or multiplication, she makes mistakes. She forgets to carry numbers over. She goes from left to right instead of from right to left. She’s forgetting her basic stuff.”

At the same time, computations are not difficult enough, he argues. “It’s back to 1st and 2nd grade math. I mean, ‘3 times 1’? ‘Two times 0’? What is that? She’s in the 4th grade.”

Everyday Math is harder for teachers — and most aren’t getting much training in making it work.

HOLD’s site challenges the claims made for Everyday Math; it includes an article by a New York City teacher who found the program didn’t work for his students.

A teacher’s journal

Slate is running the weeklong journal of a sixth grade teacher in the Bronx. It starts here.

Saive oure skules

Poor spelling and punctuation doomed a letter-writing campaign against new charter schools in Massachusetts.

All the proof state Board of Education member Roberta Schaefer needed to OK controversial new charter schools were the letters before her from public school students.

Schaefer ridiculed the letters against a proposed school in Marlboro for their missing punctuation and sloppy spelling — including a misspelling of the word “school” in one missive.

“If I didn’t think a charter school was necessary, these letters have convinced me the high school was not doing an adequate job in teaching English language arts,” Schaefer said.

Despite the letter-writing campaign, which Schaefer said was orchestrated by school officials, the Marlboro-based Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School as well as new charter schools in Cambridge, Lynn and Barnstable were approved yesterday.

Via Best of the Web.

Making history dull

U.S. and world history textbooks are fat, heavy, stuffed with disconnected facts, emblazoned with graphics and, above all, dull, concludes Fordham Institute’s review of high school texts, led by Diane Ravitch. Chester Finn writes:

The books reviewed in this report range from serviceable to abysmal. None is distinguished or even very good. The best are merely adequate. In the hands of a competent teacher, they could get the job done, but not much more than that. No textbook scored better than 78 percent overall—the rough equivalent of a C+ grade. Five of the twelve earned failing marks. Despite their glitzy graphics and vivid pictures, they all suffer from dull prose and the absence of a “story.” Is it any wonder that most students rank history or social studies among their least favorite subjects in school? What a crashing bore it must be to try to learn something from tomes like these.

The report recommends that schools or teachers be allowed to buy the textbooks they prefer, instead of adopting one book for the whole state.

This is no recipe for chaos so long as every school must attain state or district academic standards and be monitored by state or district assessments. Within that results-based accountability framework, a teacher or school history department should be free to choose whatever books, software, and supplemental materials they believe will assist them to get the job done. This will also liberate the textbook market from the handful of multinational publishing houses that dominate it today and encourage “boutique” publishers to bring more history texts (and other materials) to market.

. . . In addition, teachers should have the option of using their “textbook budgets” for alternative materials if they would rather assemble their own — from the Internet, from television, from a variety of publications, and from their own brains and knowledge base.

As long as publishers are trying to please all the state textbook committees, books will keep getting longer, heavier and more crammed with “mentions.”

Wolf whistles

Naomi Wolf’s complaint that a professor put his hand on her thigh 20 years ago has met with nearly universal scorn. Wolf makes sexual harassment look like hysteria, writes Meghan O’Rourke. Wolf revels in unmerited victimhood, writes Anne Applebaum. In an earlier version of the story, Wolf described her own seductive behavior, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon.

In 1997, Ms. Wolf recounted the incident in her book “Promiscuities,” albeit veiling the identity of the amorous professor. In the book she makes clear that students knew that “Dr. Johnson” occasionally would “elect” girls with the right aura. One Saturday night, by pre-arrangement, the professor came over to her apartment with her manuscript and a bottle. In thrilled expectation, she had put out flowers, lit candles and taken particular care to dress attractively. And over the course of the evening she got room-spinningly drunk — a detail that does not appear in the New York magazine piece.

It’s not surprising that in “Promiscuities” she confesses to feelings of complicity in the brief hanky-panky that ensued. Yet in the New York magazine exposé, there is no acknowledgment of her inner excitement or her romantic preparations–there’s just the frightened panting of a tender fawn chased by a big bad predator.

My favorite is a letter in the Daily Telegraph from a man who was pawed by Naomi Wolf.

Sir – I can remain silent no longer. Like Naomi Wolf, I too have been a victim of sexual harassment (News, Feb 24). And it was Naomi who harassed me.

It happened about 10 years ago. She and I were both speakers at a conference on feminism, organised by a Sunday newspaper. Ms Wolf, then at the height of her fame as the author of The Beauty Myth, a book describing the way women were repressed by the requirement to look attractive to men, was the star attraction. I was just the poor, downtrodden token male.

I dressed for the occasion in my best suit, teamed with rather dashing silk waistcoat (or “vest”, as Americans inexplicably call such garments), which my wife had given me for Christmas. The guest speakers all met beforehand for a drink and it was then that the incident occurred.

Ms Wolf came up to me, fluttered her eyelashes, pouted prettily, looked at me with her huge, soulful eyes and gently ran a perfectly manicured fingernail down my chest. “Gee,” she purred. “I love your vest.”

I gave the polite laugh of a clueless Englishman who has no idea how to handle a powerful, American, feminist seductress. At the time, I believed that I was amused by Wolf’s blatant hypocrisy, and her palpable wish to have it both ways. I now realise that I was in fact suppressing profound feelings of shame, violation and abuse. Clearly, I was the victim of an appalling, long-unreported act of sexual oppression. Does that entitle me to a headline-grabbing, transatlantic, politically correct publicity stunt, too?

David Thomas, Chichester, W Sussex

Thanks to Jim Miller for the link.

Gates’ kid gets rich

Even Bill Gates can’t protect his child from Internet scams, writes Scott Mace. From a Gates speech:

Another good story about that is just this weekend my wife and I were sleeping in a little bit. Our 7-year old came in and woke us up and said, “You’ve got to come, you’ve got to come.” And we said, “No, no, no, it’s still 7 o’clock, why don’t you go back and keep doing what you were doing?” And she said, “Well, I was using the computer and it’s amazing.” And I said, “Well, keep using it.” (Laughter.) And she said, “No, no, no, we won, we won money, dad.” (Laughter.) And I didn’t want to say something flip, like, “Hey, we don’t need more money.” (Laughter, applause.) So I got up and, of course, it was one of those come-on type things, and there’s my 7-year old who thinks she’s won some amazing contest, and I’m trying to explain to her about it’s just somebody trying to get her to go to that website and all that.

Writing as corporal punishment

I will not make students write the same sentence repeatedly.
I will not make students write the same sentence repeatedly.
Requiring misbehaving students to write sentences is corporal punishment, according to a Philadelphia-area school appropriately named Cramp Elementary.

The clash between using stern, “old-school” methods, which (Fred) Creel employed for seven years as disciplinarian, and teaching students to adopt “self-discipline,” favored by principal Adrienne Carpenter, came to a head yesterday at a raucous meeting of more than 60 parents.

Many parents demanded the return of Creel, who was transferred out of his post to a teaching position at Cramp in October after parents complained he made disruptive students write sentences such as “I will not hit or head-butt someone” 100 times.

Officials at Cramp, a 900-student kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school, decided the writing assignments were a form of corporal punishment, and corporal punishment is prohibited by the district.

Creel – who has worked 27 years at Cramp – also was accused of grabbing students and calling them names.

Yesterday, Creel said, “Never in my life have I gone after a child to hurt a child.” He said he did restrain children when they were fighting. And he said he never called children names, but told them: “We have no animals in school. Animals throw food. Animals spit food. Animals play with food. Animals open their mouths and show people what they’re eating.”

Parents complained student behavior has gone downhill since Creel was removed as assistant principal.

At several points, the meeting became a shouting match with lots of participants. Creel waded into the fray and quieted the crowd, using the same tactic that he uses with children: “One, hands up. Two, mouths closed.”

Even Bart Simpson has to write lines at school.

Learning to read

Children of the Code has new interviews up. Reid Lyon, the very influential National Institutes of Health researcher, talks about the disconnect between what education professors teach would-be teachers and what they do with their own children:

And when you look at professors working with their kids from birth onward, they’re reading to those kids from day one, typically. They are not only reading, but as they read even at six months of age they’re pointing out the letters and the sounds. They’re getting the kids to see the relationships between letters and sounds and vocabulary and concepts; they’re extending language. They do it on the lap; they do it at bed time; they do it at the dinner table. They have magnetic letters on the refrigerator. And what they’re doing is building not only a knowledge of language and print and how all of that goes together, but they’re building brain. We can see kids who don’t have these interactions and they show us brain development substantially different from kids who do have these interactions.

Now what is surprising is that a lot of these folks who interact with their kids in a very good nurturing environment and who do a lot of good systematic teaching from birth to five will then go into their undergraduate and graduate courses and teach their students never to do that. They teach their students never to do it because it’s not developmentally appropriate. That’s the disconnect.

. . . And we have early childhood programs where the kids go and develop good social competencies and emotional health, but the programs are bereft of any kinds of systematic interactions to do what middle and upper-middle class parents do all of the time, and the social and the emotional positives that come out of that nurturing environment go straight downhill once those kids get in school and do not learn to read. 

James Wendorf of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, says most learning problems can be prevented by teaching well; only five percent of students have a true disability that requires extraordinary help.

There’s good research that points to the dramatic efficacy of good instruction. It is true that not enough good instruction is getting to kids. Kids just don’t have the benefit of it. Teachers need to be trained in order to carry out the kind of instruction that is effective. And, there is good research to show that up to ninety-five percent or so of reading problems, reading difficulties can be effectively addressed if that instruction is there and delivered in the right way. That still leaves about four to six percent of the student population that is not responding, that is still struggling, that needs some other kind of intervention, some other kind of instruction. 

Cheating on graduation rates

Black and Hispanic students have only a 50-50 chance of earning a high school diploma, says a report by the Harvard Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute. The report blames the Department of Education for letting states fudge graduation rates and set “soft” improvement targets. It implies that educators have to cheat to meet the goals of No Child Left Behind.

The feds do need to get tougher on evaluating graduation rates, says Kati Haycock of the Education Trust. But the problem is too little accountability, not too much.

. . . any suggestion that high school dropouts are somehow caused by accountability is absolutely incorrect. Indeed, to suggest that accountability forces educators to harm children actually rewards irresponsibility and bad behavior. Worse still, it lets educators and the education system off the hook.

Make no mistake, this is about adult choices — professional and ethical choices. When professionals in other fields act in bad faith, no one calls for less accountability. In fact, they often call for more.

. . . Choosing to break the rules and take actions that harm children is just that: a choice. When we explain away such choices with euphemisms like “forced” or “unintended consequence,” we excuse educators from their professional and ethical obligations. We send a message to our nation’s young people that irresponsibility will be met with impunity. That is simply unacceptable.

Very well said.

Long before NCLB, states have played games with drop-out rates, hiding the large number of young people who never formally drop out but never earn a high school diploma either. It’s time to get serious.

Double standard

At a school in Ohio, a sixth grader was suspended for bringing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to school. The boy’s mother had refused to let him spend two days at an alternative school for violating the school’s sexual harassment policy.

At a Washington high school, a teacher-coach who “pantsed” a basketball player in practice, and then complimented her “butt,” received a verbal reprimand despite previous complaints she’d made sexual remarks to students.

In the zero tolerance era, children are punished for minor misjudgments that could be handled by a warning. But they don’t see the same standard applied to teachers who make more serious errors in judgment.