Tag Archives: school

Links on education: Gates Foundation, tenure lawsuit, Ravitch on Common Core

1. The powerful influence of Gates Foundation on education policy.

2. One school shooting a week: a list.

3. Laptops in classrooms can interfere with learning.

4. In Vergara v. California lawsuit, a ruling that tenure may be discriminatory against students in the worst schools. More here. The judge’s decision may be based on a guesswork statistic. Such a move may not improve education, at least not as much as reducing segregation would.

5. Cheating as a form of learning.

6. A thorough criticism of Common Core by Diane Ravitch. Some highlights:

I was not aware of this: that the union of which I am a member took money from Gates Foundation (see #1 above) to promote Common Core:

Both the NEA and the AFT accepted millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to promote Common Core, and both have been steadfast supporters. The leaders began to complain about poor implementation only after they heard large numbers of complaints from their members about lack of resources, lack of professional development, lack of curriculum, etc.

“Value-Added Measurement” of teachers is not legitimate:

the American Statistical Association issued a report a few weeks ago warning that “value-added-measurement” (that is, judging teachers by the scores of their students) is fraught with error, inaccurate, and unstable.

Ravitch summarizes that “there is no evidence that national standards produces higher achievement, nor that they reduce achievement gaps. They certainly do not overcome the burdens of homelessness, hunger, lack of medical care, or overcrowded classrooms,” and she writes that she advised policymakers to test out the Common Core standards before issuing them nationally.

[I]t is far too soon to judge Common Core’s efficacy. But that is the fault of those who wrote it. In 2009, when I met at the Aspen Institute with the authors of the Common Core, I urged them to field test it so they would find out how it works in real classrooms. They didn’t. In 2010, I was invited to the White House to meet with Melody Barnes, the director of domestic policy; Rahm Emanual, the White House chief of staff; and Ricardo Rodriguez, the President’s education advisor, and they asked me what I thought of Common Core. I urged them to field test it. I suggested that they invite 3-5 states to give it a trial of three-five years. See how it works. See if it narrows the achievement gap or widens the achievement gap. They quickly dismissed the idea. They were in a hurry. They wanted Common Core to be rolled out as quickly as possible, without checking out how it works in real classrooms with real teachers and real children.

National standards maybe aren’t all that important internationally, at least not as much as poverty lowers U.S. scores:

Are our kids left behind by China, South Korea and Germany? Not really. Maybe not at all. It is true that we get mediocre scores on international tests, but we have been getting mediocre scores on international tests since the first such test was offered in 1964. We were never a world leader on the international tests. Most years, our scores were at the median or even in the bottom quartile. Yet in the intervening fifty years, we have far surpassed all those nations–economically, technologically, and on every other dimension– whose students got higher test scores. Basically, the test scores don’t predict anything about the future of the economy. Should we worry that Estonia might surpass us? The fact is that our international scores reflect the very high proportion of kids who live in poverty, whose scores are lowest. We are #1 among the rich nations of the world in child poverty; nearly one-quarter of our children live in poverty. Our kids who live in affluent communities do very well indeed on the international tests. If we reduced the proportion of children living in poverty, our international test scores would go up. But in the end, as I said, the international scores don’t predict anything other than an emphasis on test-taking in the schools or the general socio-economic well-being of the society. We would be far better off investing more money in providing direct services to children–small classes for struggling students, experienced teachers, social workers, counselors, psychologists, and a full curriculum–rather than investing in more test preparation.

I really enjoyed where Ravitch advocates teachers bringing their passions to the classroom and students experiencing joy in learning:

I see no advantage in “having a teacher in Alaska teach more or less the same thing as a teacher in Alabama.” What’s the point of that? If the teacher in Alabama is passionate about the work of Flannery O’Connor, let him or her teach it with passion. If the teacher in Alaska is fascinated with the arctic tundra, teach it. … A study by Tom Loveless of Brookings … point[s] out that the Common Core standards were likely to make little or no difference in achievement. After all, states with high standards have wide variations in achievement, as do states with low standards.

I see no value in the arbitrary division between literature and informational text prescribed in the Common Core. I know where the numbers come from. They were instructions to assessment developers of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (I served on its governing board for seven years). The ratios were not intended as instructions to teachers. This is balderdash. English teachers should teach what they know and love. If they love fiction, teach it. If they love nonfiction, teach it. Why should a committee with no classroom teachers on it in 2009 tell reading teachers how to apportion their reading time? I doubt that teachers of math and science will spend any time on fiction anyway.

[A] belief in using test scores to hold teachers accountable has no research to support it, nor is there any real-world evidence. Many districts have tried this for four or five years and there is no evidence–none–that it produces better teachers or better education. The ratings, as noted above, are arbitrary, and say more about classroom composition than about teacher quality. Nor is there any evidence that education gets better if teachers everywhere are using a common script. Doing well in school depends on family support, student motivation, community support, adequate resources, class sizes appropriate to the needs of the children, experienced teachers, wise leadership, and students who arrive in school healthy and well-fed.

Frankly, I don’t understand why [people would] oppose “joy” in the classroom. Why should school be so “hard” that it makes children cry? It is true that some assignments are hard; some books are hard to read; some math problems are hard to solve. We learn from doing things that are not necessarily joyful, but that engage us in work that stimulates us to think harder, try harder, persist. When we are done with hard work, yes, it is a joyful feeling. Maybe it is because I am a grandmother, but I want my grandchildren to approach their school work with earnestness and to sense the joy of accomplishment, the joy of learning. I want my grandchildren to love learning. I want them to read books even when they are not assigned. I want them to go to the Internet to find things out because they are curious.

‘You must keep track of inventory’: Story-problem stories

brandi_math_2014

A friend recently posted this photo to Facebook, and, as I am a Matt, I was drawn to it. But I found this story problem to not accurately represent my desires. I don’t really want any flag at all, but given the choice of the two, I’d much prefer the Mondrian-esque flag on the right rather than the one with “4 equal parts.”

But then, story problems are all too often mere fiction. Students are expected to apply some math processes to situations that, while plausible (like realistic fiction) are not actually, you know, real.

I see some problems here with story problems that have fictional set-ups. One, if the situations are fictional, doesn’t that also suggest that the math is fictional (see also here), too? And if so, why should I spend any more time learning math than I do learning the names of all the dwarves in The Hobbit? And, two, if I’m an imaginative person, I might get so interested in the fictional situation and/or the fictional text that actually doing the math might seem damn boring in contrast, or even besides the point. Who cares about an equally sectioned red flag, if green better matches my living room decor?

Below are some examples (found here, questions that are in the style of the exam given to high school juniors in Illinois) of fictional math situations that seem strange and wonderful.

4. A customer in the music shop where you work purchases 3 cassette tapes. One costs $8.99, one costs $7.99, and one is on sale for $3.99. Excluding taxes, how much does the customer owe?

First, let me ask why the test writers either, A., know preternaturally much about my afterschool employment, or B., are asking me to pretend a whole lot here: I work in a “music shop” — what is this, 1998? Nope, wait, a customer is purchasing “cassette tapes,” so this is 1985. These prices certainly suggest those of the ’80s, but even then, who is selling a cassette for $3.99? Is this a good deal? I mean, is this cheap cassette Led Zeppelin IV or is it the Bullet Boys? If it’s the latter, should I harass the customer for his terrible taste?

So many questions: Why would I exclude taxes — isn’t that included in what the customer has to pay? I mean, am I gonna offer the customer numerous nonfinal tallies, say, giving a subtotal after every item? And why doesn’t this 1985 “music shop” have a cash register to do this work for me? Is the power out? It’s store policy to ask patrons to leave and we lock the store until the lights are back on.

The word “owe” — is the customer taking out a loan to buy these cassettes? Should I, as a math student of the future, advise the buyer not to buy cassettes at all, as the vinyl that now seems inconvenient will be cool again in just a few years, and the CDs that are coming soon will be usable long after cassette players become scarce, but the cassettes he buys will just be stored in some box in a closet in his mother’s house, to be thrown away when she moves out? Would the customer find my future-perspective frightening, as he did not know he would be buying items from a test-taker who was born long after 1985?

6. You must keep track of inventory in an office supply warehouse. This week, 8 computers of a particular model have been shipped out of the warehouse to a local store, while 4 more computers of the same model have been received by the warehouse from the factory. What is the overall change in the number of these computers in inventory this week?

I “must.” Ha, such imperatives. Am I a slave in this office supply warehouse? Or is it a family obligation, like maybe my manager is my wife’s uncle, who was kind enough to give me a job when I got fired (for asking too many questions and frightening the customers) from the “music shop” in question 4 above — and I had to spend some purgatory time in Question 5,  where I was told to Calculate the missing values so as to complete the chart — and so now I feel like I owe the guy, even though our warehousing business isn’t doing so well. It’s these damn Kaypros. I keep telling him that everybody wants IBM or Apple computers, but he won’t listen, and half the computers we send out come back. He just tells me to stick with the strategic plan, but I really think he’s just jealous of my intellect. My wife tells me to bide my time, that the resumes I’m sending out to get a job in my field will eventually pay off, but until then, I’m stuck in the logistics biz. No kid ever grows up and says he wants to be in “logistics” — but here I am. Ah, well, at least I got a place to go and a paycheck to keep my home warm. And thanks to all these Kaypros we keep getting returned, I don’t have to do the inventory myself. Lotus 1-2-3, take it away.

After Question 7 — Calculate the missing values so as to complete the chart — ignores the spreadsheet the Kaypro made, I’m apparently moving to the health care field. Such career whiplash:

8. In the hospital where you work, one of your duties is to take pulse counts. One patient has a pulse count of 21 beats in 15 seconds. At this rate, what should this patient’s pulse count be for 60 seconds?

Man, oh, man, do I hate taking pulse counts. Having to hold the bony wrists while keeping a finger on the sagging flesh of these old arms, it’s the worst. Plus, are we really sure that it should be my “duty”? I mean, I have no experience except selling cassettes and inventorying computers. But around this place, man, you never know. But that’s why sometimes, just to keep myself amused, I’ll count a pulse beat for 10 seconds, and then scream, “OH MY GOD, WHAT’S THAT ON YOUR HEAD?” at the patients just to see how much faster their heart rates can get. I go for unpredictable. But even if I don’t scare them on purpose, how do we know that their heart will beat at an even rate for the next 45 seconds? I mean, dead people’s hearts once worked, too, until they didn’t. And once a person’s dead, at least they don’t have to do these stupid story problems.

Links: Teacher movies, teaching philosophy, etc.

1. This post about teacher movies makes a valuable point about education and how we talk about it in general terms but this makes little rhetorical sense, since education (maybe more than almost any broad aspect of our lives) is irreducibly a matter of what particular individuals learn, how individuals come to understand the world of ideas and facts but only through the framework of their own perspectives:

It would be a huge step forward if we could conceive of the people in our education system—students, teachers, families, administrators—as human rather than cartoonish media representations or, perhaps worse, mere data points. Policies not only have human consequences but they are also implemented by humans—invariably flawed, often self-seeking, sometimes incompetent humans.   It’s humans all the way down.  The language we use should reflect this and not carelessly cede ground to abstractions like “African-American males” or “the lowest-third percentile” or even “teachers unions.”  This is an acknowledgment that idealized categories, run amok, can in fact short-circuit the hard work of ensuring each individual student, in their individual family context, neighborhood, and cultural background, receives a high-quality education.

And the fact that while education is a system, learning is a particular, even private, matter, is the reason that any new educational system that attempts to treat students as indistinguishable, like Common Core (in which “common” is used to mean that every student learns the same things, in the same ways), is doomed to irrelevance.

2. Isaac Asimov’s 1964 predictions for the year 2014.

3. New Year’s traditions as religious/magical.

4. A compelling text by Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The Myth of Western Civilization.”

5. Dan Savage’s review of Sarah Palin’s Christmas book. (Via The Dish).

6. Jason Silva and awe.

7. The Scottish tradition of Hogmanay.

8. Miguel de Unamuno on consciousness.

9. An article suggesting reading on tablets is different from reading on paper, vis-a-vis getting engaged in narrative.

10. The New York Times editorializes about Finnish education. Interesting link here to Finland’s curriculum, including philosophy education:

5.13 PHILOSOPHY
Philosophical thinking deals with reality as a whole, its diverse perception and human activity in it. The special nature of philosophy lies in its way of structuring problems conceptually, rationally and through discussion. Upper secondary school studies in philosophy will support students’ individual development and promote the general learning and thinking skills that they will need in a changing and complex society. The theoretical themes studied in philosophy are necessary to form an understanding of cultural heritage and contemporary culture.
The practical significance of philosophy is based on the fact that students will learn to structure questions about values, norms and meanings in conceptual terms. Studies in philosophy will help them to perceive the significance that different types of skills and knowledge hold for individuals and society. To counterbalance the specialised skills and knowledge, studies in philosophy will also teach students to grasp broader conceptual systems and relationships. It will help them to see the ways in which the conceptions of reality, values and norms held in different branches of science and schools of thought may form consistent systems or contradict each other. Philosophy will develop judgement.
Philosophy instruction will promote development of creative and independent thinking. Philosophy will provide students with plenty of scope to form their own personal views. As they delve deeper into basic philosophical questions — to which there are no simple solutions — they will learn to formulate and justify their own views and, at the same time, to respect other reasoned views. Group deliberations on complicated questions will develop students’ ability
to trust their own individual opportunities to resolve even the most difficult problems. Studies in philosophy will support students’ growth into active, responsible and tolerant citizens.