Archives for April 2006

Math ‘n lit

“Connecting math with literature” is the hottest trend at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention, reports Math and Text.

What we’re talking about when we say “math and literature connection” is mixing math with stories in some way. That’s it. And connection is always a scary word for me too. Connecting math with anything can be a way to teach math by allusion — a very attractice alternative for those who would like to avoid teaching math altogether.

There’s no evidence math ‘n lit works better than teaching straight math. The idea has been around for more than 10 years but little research has been done on effectiveness.

Update: Via e-mail citing Illinois Loop, I learned about a Chicago area school that plans to teach math ‘n social justice:

Although teachers are using the Interactive Mathematics Program (what we call “classical knowledge”), they will also develop mathematics curriculum based on the generative themes (key social contradictions experienced in people’s lives) expressed by students and community members alike (“community knowledge”). (We include in community knowledge students’ language and culture as well.) At the same time, the school’s (mathematics) curricula will provide students opportunities to read and write the world (develop sociopolitical consciousness and a sense of social agency). We refer to the latter as “critical knowledge.” A key question is: how does one connect and synthesize all three knowledge bases-building on community knowledge so that students develop both critical and classical knowledge-while fully honoring and respecting each, to develop liberatory mathematics education in an urban Latino/a school given the current high-stakes accountability regimes and larger political climate?

In the latest Simpsons’ episode “Girls Just Want To Have Sums,” Springfield Elementary is split into a girls’ school, where math is replaced by self-esteem celebrations, and a boys’ school where real math is taught, amidst brutality.

‘A safe place for kids to be smart’

Black students learn to speak correctly and with authority as Orators, reports Opinion Journal.

The Orators were established in 1985 by five black professionals–all employees of Johnson & Johnson or AT&T–who were concerned about the poor interviewing skills they saw among young black job candidates. The five call themselves “traditionalists” and say that they have no use for either Ebonics or gangsta rap. “To be successful, you must be well-spoken,” says founder and board member Eloise Samuels, who also reminds students that more is at stake than the impression they leave as individuals: “You are representing your race when you speak.” Her co-founder Lanetta Lyons, who coaches kids from a New Brunswick, N.J., public housing project once a week, warns her charges: “Without subject-verb agreement, what you say will be discounted.”

The group provides “a safe place for kids to be smart.” Volunteers keep the costs low.

Kindergarten can wait

More parents are “redshirting” their children, especially boys, by delaying kindergarten enrollment for a year reports the Chicago Tribune:

Another rough indicator, the percentage of boys starting kindergarten at about age 6 or older has gone up, from 7 percent of boys in 1970 to 18 percent in 2001, according to calculations by the U.S. Department of Education. The number of girls starting kindergarten at about age 6 or older has gone up, too, but from 5 percent in 1970 to a relatively modest 10 percent in 2001.

Redshirting is far more common in affluent areas, where parents have high expectations for their children and can afford another year of preschool.

Does it help?

The 1997 (Pediatrics) study co-authored by pediatrician Robert S. Byrd found that teenagers who were older than their classmates because they had started school late were more likely to have behavioral problems than kids who had started on time.

However, these may have been children held back because of immaturity, not just age. Another researcher claims five-year-old boys are two years behind girls in fine motor skills.

The increasing academic focus of kindergarten is blamed, but there was a lot of redshirting of boys in Palo Alto when my daughter started kindergarten — on time — 20 years ago. I noticed as a classroom volunteer that the girls were way ahead of the boys in their ability to write, draw and stay focused on desk work.

Meet the author

Thanks to Education Gadfly for mentioning my upcoming event in Washington, DC for Our School, which has a new Amazon review.

I’ll read and sign copies of the book at William E. Doar Jr. (WEDJ) Charter School for the Performing Arts, 705 Edgewood Street N.E. Washington, D.C. on Thursday, May 11 at 5:30 pm. The school is near the Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA metro stops. A student musical troupe will perform and I’ll hold a “bookraiser” to get books requested by students donated to the school library. WEDJ School now has pre-K and elementary classes but is adding a middle and high school. I visited last summer and was very impressed with the school.

On Wednesday, May 17, I have an event at Russell Byers Charter School, 1911 Arch St., Philadelphia at 5:30 pm.

Next, I’m speaking some time between 10 am and 4 pm at the Santa Cruz County Book Fair on Sunday, May 20, Live Oak Community Center, 979 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. See new events on for details.

I’m trying to set up something in New York, but no luck so far.

Readers, if you live in the Washington, Philadelphia or Santa Cruz area, please tell your friends and relations about the upcoming events. Tell your listservs, boards and e-mail pals. This is probably my last round of book events before the paperback comes out in 2007, so I’d like to go out with a bang.

Job prep

Career and technical education (voc ed for the 21st century) could lower the 30 percent drop-out rate, writes Liam Julian on Education Gadfly.

College-prep is not the only worthwhile track.

Yes, it’s increasingly difficult to land a good job without a college diploma. But that’s not because college is an educational panacea; it’s because high schools are such educational wastelands. Almost anyone has the academic ability to graduate high school with ease. A recent Gates Foundation report that surveyed dropouts found 88 percent of them had passing grades before they quit. These dropouts didn’t stop attending class because they struggled with coursework. Most stopped attending class because they were bored with their default high school curricula.

High-quality, rigorous career classes would make school relevant to students.

Take, for example, the Career Academies—small schools, generally housed within larger schools, that teach traditional academics as well as career-oriented skills. The Academies give their students significant work experience and maintain strong ties to outside employers. A recent evaluation found that Career Academies students did no better or worse academically than a control group, but over a four-year follow up period, the students from the Academies earned 10 percent–higher post-school wages. Students with a high-risk of dropping out who enrolled in the Academies were more likely to finish school, too.

Maintaining academic rigor is a challenge. Insider Higher Ed reports on a community college conference. Many students don’t have the skills to take vocational classes at two-year colleges.

“You have advertised yourselves as second chance institutions, and students believed you,” said Gene Bottoms, senior vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board. By saying over and over again that community colleges will help anyone, the colleges have unintentionally sent a message to high school students on a vocational track not to worry too much about the courses they take, and how hard they study, Bottoms said.

Two-year programs take three years because students need so much remediation. That’s assuming students don’t just give up.

“Developmental” (remedial) math is the most-flunked class, according to a story on retention of first-year college students.

WestEd is concerned that students who go to four-year colleges aren’t prepared.

More money, fewer students

School districts may “end up with more money AND fewer students as chartering expands,” says Charter Blog, citing studies in New York and Ohio.

Talk to Edspresso

Edspresso, which calls me a “luminary,” is looking for ideas for future debates. I’m doing the universal preschool debate next week.

Edspresso also has a question for teachers who blog anonymously.

Down on schools

Californians think public schools are doing poorly — except for their local schools — and need more money but don’t want to pay more themselves, according to a Public Policy Institute of California survey. Everyone wants to tax the rich.

Dan Weintraub summarizes in the Sacramento Bee:

Californians are as down on the public schools as they have been in a decade, but they are divided about what role public education should play in society, and most don’t want to pay more taxes to give the schools a budget boost, according to a new poll scheduled to be released today.

Those surveyed strongly support testing students before giving them a high school diploma or promoting them to the next grade.


Jonathan Kozol is Education’s Greatest Monster, writes D-Ed Reckoning, in response to this interview.

Education’s lovable crank, Jonathan Kozol, recently surpassed Alfie Kohn as Education’s Greatest Monster while on the road promoting his latest jeremiad.

No longer content in rehashing his pessimistic view that poor kids can’t learn –wait for it– as long as they’re poor, he is now actively bashing effective instructional programs ostensibly because they are successful in educating poor kids. This is an impossibility under his pet theory.His blissfully fact-free siren songs are very alluring to our gullible educators. He is one of the most often cited sources for education apologists. This is because he basically just says what he wants with complete disregard to the facts.

It’s not true, as Kozol claims, that poor children or black children catch up if they go to schools in affluent communities.

In Part II, DR cites data to refute Kozol’s attack on scripted reading programs.

Cut Day

Educators are asking parents not to let children skip school today — it’s Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day — because schools lose funding when students are absent. Kids can visit their parents’ jobs when school is not in session, they say. Yes, but the Ms. Foundation wouldn’t get as much attention that way.

Update: Popular Mechanics suggest putting your kids to work and not just for a day.

It seems to me that basic competence in life ought to include knowing things like how to change a tire, paint a room, cook a meal, mix concrete, and build simple items out of wood. And the best way to learn these things is working side-by-side with a parent.

I learned no mechanical or concrete-mixing skills from my parents. They had none to pass on, being Jewish. (OK, it’s a stereotype, but I can tell you it’s a stereotype exemplified by my family.) But I did pick up practical skills as a homeowner. And I built a not-too-wobbly set of wooden shelves in fifth-grade shop class. My daughter can cook, paint, do laundry (but not iron), assemble Ikea furniture and remember to get her car’s oil checked regularly.