Archive for ‘K-12 education’

October 10, 2014

A message to education reformers:  memorization and repetition are still needed

by Grace

Amid the controversy of how Common Core Standards are changing American K-12 math education, engineering professor Barbara Oakley argues that the value of memorization and practice continues to be downplayed.

Common Core Standards “propose that in mathematics, students should gain equal facility in conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application”.  But implementation of CCS does not always follow those guidelines.

The devil, of course, lies in the details of implementation. In the current educational climate, memorization and repetition in the STEM disciplines (as opposed to in the study of language or music), are often seen as demeaning and a waste of time for students and teachers alike. Many teachers have long been taught that conceptual understanding in STEM trumps everything else. And indeed, it’s easier for teachers to induce students to discuss a mathematical subject (which, if done properly, can do much to help promote understanding) than it is for that teacher to tediously grade math homework. What this all means is that, despite the fact that procedural skills and fluency, along with application, are supposed to be given equal emphasis with conceptual understanding, all too often it doesn’t happen. Imparting a conceptual understanding reigns supreme—especially during precious class time.

The problem with focusing relentlessly on understanding is that math and science students can often grasp essentials of an important idea, but this understanding can quickly slip away without consolidation through practice and repetition. Worse, students often believe they understand something when, in fact, they don’t. By championing the importance of understanding, teachers can inadvertently set their students up for failure as those students blunder in illusions of competence. As one (failing) engineering student recently told me: “I just don’t see how I could have done so poorly. I understood it when you taught it in class.” My student may have thought he’d understood it at the time, and perhaps he did, but he’d never practiced using the concept to truly internalize it. He had not developed any kind of procedural fluency or ability to apply what he thought he understood.

I’ve read similar reports about how CCS continues to prioritize understanding at the expense of fluency.  My experience several years ago was that teachers used to focus heavily on understanding, and I was told not to be concerned when my child had not mastered basic math facts because it was more important that she understand the concepts.  Meanwhile she was falling behind in all aspects of learning.  Is this still common?

Explaining and discussing alone do not lead to full understanding and mastery.

In the years since I received my doctorate, thousands of students have swept through my classrooms—students who have been reared in elementary school and high school to believe that understanding math through active discussion is the talisman of learning. If you can explain what you’ve learned to others, perhaps drawing them a picture, the thinking goes, you must
understand it.

Chunking is important in analyzing and reacting to new learning situations.

Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. Chess masters, for example, can recall tens of thousands of different chess patterns. Whatever the discipline, experts can call up to consciousness one or several of these well-knit-together, chunked neural subroutines to analyze and react to a new learning situation. This level of true understanding, and ability to use that understanding in new situations, comes only with the kind of rigor and familiarity that repetition, memorization, and practice can foster.

Gifted students and experts are often able to quickly reason their way into algorithms when solving math problems, arguably because of their deep understanding.  But I don’t think most students find that to be a good approach in the typical learning process, as it slows them down as they are practicing to gain both fluency and understanding.  On the other hand, I’m sure many students simply memorize with no understanding, thereby failing to build the foundation for later math success.

Of course both understanding and fluency are important, and in the real world the critical questions are usually:  Can you do it?  Can you do it quickly?

———

Barabara Oakley, “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math”, Nautilus, October 2, 2014.

October 6, 2014

Schools should acknowledge that genes influence IQ

by Grace

Putting genetics and education in the same sentence is a modern taboo.

Kathryn Asbury, co-author with behavioral geneticists Robert Plomin of G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement made this point when she wrote “Genes do influence children, and acknowledging that can make schools better” last year.

Recent research by Professor Plomin “shows genes are more important than we like to think”.  Longitudinal adoption studies in particular show parents have much less influence than some might believe.

… At one time people thought family members were similar because of the environment, but it turns out that the answer — in psychopathology or personality, and in cognition post-adolescence — the answer is that it’s all genetic! What runs in families is genetic!’

It’s not really “all” genetic, and Plomin’s hyperbole is not helpful.  But IQ and other traits do correlate closely with birth parents, and “tiger-mothering” by adoptive parents makes very little difference in the long term.

It’s another counterintuitive mind-melt. The environment, all that maths coaching and tiger-mothering, can maybe have an effect on a kid’s IQ when he’s young — bump him up a few notches. But as he gets older, his IQ will become ever more closely correlated with that of his blood relatives.

Plomin offers a theory that would explain why IQ moves closer to biological origins over time.

‘… ‘We don’t know, but it’s probable that little early genetic differences become bigger and bigger as you go through life creating environments correlated with your genotype.’ I must look baffled. ‘The simplest way of saying this is that bright kids read more, they hang out with kids who read more.’

Our environment shapes our development, but it’s also true that our genes shape our environment.  This reminds me of the finding that parents read more to their daughters than to their sons.  Perhaps part of the reason is due to innate differences between the genders, and parents find the “cost” of reading to a squirming child higher than to a calmer one.

According to Plomin, educators “especially don’t want to hear that IQ is highly heritable”.  Perhaps because they believe this lessens the value of what teachers do in the classroom and what social services schools push to provide.  And then there’s the fear of “a segregated world, children with low IQs condemned from birth to clean the loos”.

Knowing and accepting heritability of certain traits can aid in tailoring teaching to help students with specific difficulties.

‘Oh, I go to an education meeting and this is all I get,’ Plomin says, showing the first sign of mild exasperation. ‘They think it’s just terrible because we’re going to start labelling kids from really young. But kids label each other already — they know who’s sporty, who’s bright. And if we can read a kid’s genome, we can predict and prevent disease. If we can read their DNA, we can tailor the teaching to help a kid with learning difficulties. Surely it’s worse,’ he says, ‘to just sit in a classroom and sink, unable to read because no one has identified that you might have trouble? At least consider that it’s not an open-and-shut case.’

Many aspects of good teaching apply to the general population of students, but some particular instructional strategies work better for particular types of students.

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Kathryn Asbury. “Genes do influence children, and acknowledging that can make schools better”, The Spectator, October 17, 2013.

Mary Wakefield, “Revealed: how exam results owe more to genes than teaching”, The Spectator, July 27, 2013.

RELATED:  Dan Hurley, “Can You Make Yourself Smarter?”, New York Times,  April 18, 2012.

October 2, 2014

Excessive homework is not a common problem

by Grace

Excessive homework has been a controversial news item for over 100 years in the United States, and recently it again grabbed headlines.  Tom Loveless uses facts and analysis from the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education to put this issue in perspective.

Now homework is in the news again. Several popular anti-homework books fill store shelves (whether virtual or brick and mortar).[ii] The documentary Race to Nowhere depicts homework as one aspect of an overwrought, pressure-cooker school system that constantly pushes students to perform and destroys their love of learning. The film’s website claims over 6,000 screenings in more than 30 countries. In 2011, the New York Times ran a front page article about the homework restrictions adopted by schools in Galloway, NJ, describing “a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, especially in elementary grades.” In the article, Vicki Abeles, the director of Race to Nowhere, invokes the indictment of homework lodged a century ago, declaring, “The presence of homework is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”[iii]

A petition for the National PTA to adopt “healthy homework guidelines” on change.org currently has 19,000 signatures. In September 2013, Atlantic featured an article, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” by a Manhattan writer who joined his middle school daughter in doing her homework for a week. Most nights the homework took more than three hours to complete.

The Brown Center Report looked at data collected by the NAEP,  the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, and Met Life in an effort to answer the question “whether strong empirical evidence confirms the anecdotes about overworked kids and outraged parents”.  In fact, the reality is different from hyped-up news stories.

… Homework typically takes an hour per night. The homework burden of students rarely exceeds two hours a night. The upper limit of students with two or more hours per night is about 15% nationally—and that is for juniors or seniors in high school. For younger children, the upper boundary is about 10% who have such a heavy load. Polls show that parents who want less homework range from 10%-20%, and that they are outnumbered—in every national poll on the homework question—by parents who want more homework, not less. The majority of parents describe their children’s homework burden as about right.

Parents who complain about excessive homework usually have children enrolled in the most rigorous levels of course work. and are more likely to have other complaints about their schools.  Often they have the myopic view that everyone shares their situation.

The homework horror stories need to be read in a proper perspective. They seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents. They do not reflect the experience of the average family with a school-age child. That does not diminish these stories’ power to command the attention of school officials or even the public at large. But it also suggests a limited role for policy making in settling such disputes. Policy is a blunt instrument. Educators, parents, and kids are in the best position to resolve complaints about homework on a case by case basis. Complaints about homework have existed for more than a century, and they show no signs of going away.

———

Tom Loveless, “Homework in America”, Brookings Institution, March 18, 2014.

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September 25, 2014

Seven myths of education are hobbling education reform

by Grace

Author Daisy Christodoulou argues that the “chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions, low teacher quality, burdensome government dictates”, but instead are the Seven Myths about Education:

1 – Facts prevent understanding
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything
4 – You can always just look it up
5 – We should teach transferable skills
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. points out the relevance of these myths today, with the nationwide embrace of Common Core Standards that comes after the failure of No Child Left Behind reform.

Ms. Christodoulou’s book indirectly explains these tragic, unintended consequences of NCLB, especially the poor results in reading. It was primarily the way that educators responded to the accountability provisions of NCLB that induced the failure. American educators, dutifully following the seven myths, regard reading as a skill that could be employed without relevant knowledge; in preparation for the tests, they spent many wasted school days on ad hoc content and instruction in “strategies.” If educators had been less captivated by anti-knowledge myths, they could have met the requirements of NCLB, and made adequate yearly progress for all groups. The failure was not in the law but in the myths.

While Hirsch focuses most on reading skills and how CCS employ ‘the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies”‘, the entire list of myths is in play to doom the latest reform efforts.

… If the Common Core standards fail as NCLB did, it will not be because the standards themselves are defective. It will be because our schools are completely dominated by the seven myths analyzed by Daisy Christodoulou….

Despite some rhetoric to the contrary, CCS implementation continues the educational establishment’s crusade against “knowing things” and “being taught things”.  Instead, in accordance with the seven myths it downplays outside knowledge and encourages a “discovery-oriented” approach instead of direct instruction.

———

E. D. Hirsch, Jr.,  “A Game-Changing Education Book from England”, Huffington Post, 06/27/2013.

September 18, 2014

‘Saying 99 percent of your teachers are highly effective is laughable’

by Grace

In New York, the rushed implementation of Common Core Standards combined with the new method of evaluating teachers have produced bizarre results that seem to offer no value in the effort to improve schools.

In Scarsdale, regarded as one of the best school systems in the country, no teacher has been rated “highly effective” in classroom observations. It is the only district in the Lower Hudson Valley with that strict an evaluation. In Pleasantville, 99 percent of the teachers are rated as “highly effective” in the same category.

“Saying 99 percent of your teachers are highly effective is laughable,” said Charlotte Danielson, a Princeton, New Jersey-based educational consultant who has advised state education departments around the country. Danielson’s model for evaluating teachers via classroom observations, Framework for Teaching, is one of the best-known models in the country and believed to be the basis for New York’s evaluation system.

The new method for evaluating teachers is as flawed as the old method.

The fact that 80 percent of the evaluation is based on local measures can inject a lot of subjectivity into the process, critics say. A look at the teacher evaluation data by the state Education Department shows that districts have the most leeway in the classroom observation portion of the rubric, which accounts for 60 percent of the evaluation.

“The local administrators know who they are evaluating and are often influenced by personal bias,” Danielson said. “What it also means is that they might have set the standards too low.”

Administrators feel they must game the system to protect their teachers.

Pleasantville schools Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter defended her district’s classroom observation scores, which use the Danielson model — saying the state’s “flawed” model had forced districts to scale or bump up the scores so “effective” teachers don’t end up with an overall rating of “developing.”

“It is possible under the HEDI scoring band (which categorizes teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective”) to be rated effective in all three areas and yet end up as developing,” Fox-Alter said, adding that she understood Danielson’s concern.

“Danielson has said that teachers should live in “effective” and only visit “highly effective’,” said Fox-Alter, president of the Southern Westchester Chief School Administrators.

But adhering to that philosophy might put her teachers in jeopardy, she said.

The use of tests to measure teacher effectiveness is not without controversy, but as usual our public schools have compounded the problematic aspects with their sloppy implementation.  The result is a thorny mess that falls short of achieving previously stated goals.

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Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, “Teacher evaluations: Subjective data skew state results”, lohud.com, September 15, 2014.

September 11, 2014

Homeschool is more popular than private school in this state

by Grace

In North Carolina, the number of homeschoolers has now surpassed the number of students attending private schools.

That statistic may seem shocking if you’ve been a stranger to the growth of the homeschooling movement, which has rapidly increased in recent decades.

In 1973, there were approximately 13,000 children, ages 5 to 17, being homeschooled in the United States. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of the 2011-2012 school year, that number has grown to almost 1.8 million or approximately 3.4 percent of the school age population. Other sources report numbers well over 2 million.

Homeschooling has grown 27% over the last two years in North Carolina.

Those are pretty impressive numbers for a movement considered “fringe” not that long ago and that has only been legal in all 50 states since 1996.

The top three reasons parents give for homeschooling their children:

A concern about environment of other schools
A desire to provide moral instruction
A dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools

Dissatisfaction with Common Core may be fueling the growth in homeschooling.

And my guess is when the figures are reported related to the past two years you’ll see the number of parents citing “dissatisfaction with academic instruction” spike with the growing uprising against Common Core and national standards. Those who run local homeschooling groups in North Carolina say Common Core is a big factor.

———

Genevieve Wood, “In One State, More Children Homeschool Than Attend Private Schools. Why That Shouldn’t Shock You.”, The Daily Signal, September 08, 2014.

August 8, 2014

Common Core proficiency rates were selected to match SAT college readiness rates

by Grace

Passing rates for Common Core New York state tests were selected so that they would match SAT college readiness rates.  Principal Carol Burris of New York City’s South Side High School described the process in a Washington Post article titled “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”.

One of the first steps in the process was the creation of a report requested by State Education Commissioner John King.

… The College Board was asked to correlate SAT scores with college grades to create probabilities of college success….

These SAT college readiness scores were then used to “inform” the selection of state test cut scores for grades three through eight.

After coming up with three scores — 540 in math, 560 in reading and 530 in writing– the College Board determined the percentage of New York students who achieved those SAT scores. Those percentages were used to “inform” the cut score setting committee. As the committee went through questions, according to member Dr. Baldassarre-Hopkins, the SED helpers said, “If you put your bookmark on page X for level 3 [passing], it would be aligned with these data [referring to the college readiness data],” thus nudging the cut score where they wanted it to be.

The state test cut scores that were ultimately selected align suspiciously close to the SAT college readiness scores.

When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction. The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent. Coincidence? Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

In a way, it makes sense.  Common Core Standards were created to prepare students for college, so it could be argued that students now in grade school would be as poorly prepared for college as students who have recently taken the SAT.  But the process seems to have been carried out backwards, without looking objectively at the test questions.

Burris puts it this way.

Here is the bottom line. There is no objective science by which we can predict future college readiness using grades 3-8 test scores. You can, at best make assumptions, based on correlations, with score thresholds that are capricious. To make college readiness predictions for 8-year-olds is absurd and unkind.

I think you can assess whether an 8-year-old is on track for college readiness, but obviously with limited precision.  However, I appreciate the point Burris makes.  Moreover, considering the botched implementation of other aspects of CCS, I am inclined to be suspicious about the validity of the cut scores used in the New York state tests.

A local newspaper reported that some committee members involved in selecting cut scores believed “the process was so tightly controlled that the results were inevitable”.

———

Valerie Strauss, “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”, Washington Post, April 29, 2014.

Gary Stern, “Common Core: Who’s on track for college and who is not?”, Lohud.com, July 27, 2014.

August 7, 2014

Teen Jeopardy least favorite categories

by Grace

Does it surprise you that these are the last two categories chosen by the contestants in a recent Teen Jeopardy game?

20140729.COCTeenJeopardy1
Yeah, me neither.  Pro Sports Teams and Outdoors don’t strike me as the first choices a typical nerdy teen would select, especially since the other categories were The Presidency, The Sound Of Words, Fictional Characters, and Indoors.

Here are the actual questions for the sports category.

For 200:
Of the four Miami pro sports teams, it’s the one team name that’s NOT an animal.
For 400:
They’re the Southeastern NFL team whose logo’s seen here
For 600:
Of pro teams w/ Boston in their names, it’s won more championships than all the others.
For 800:
The two NHL teams based in national capital cities are the Washington Capitals & them.
For 1000:
The Natl. Hot Dog & Sausage Council says this team’s Miller Park is MLB’s only park to sell more sausages than hot dogs.

ADDED:  Link to the answers

Thanks to Redditor DiagnosisMoyder for this photo.

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August 1, 2014

What stresses teens the most?

by Grace

US teenagers feel more stressed than adults

27 percent of teenagers reported feeling “extreme stress” during the school year, compared to 20 percent of adults.

It should be no surprise that school-related matters are the most common sources of stress for teenagers.

For teens, the most commonly reported sources of stress are school (83 percent), getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69 percent), and financial concerns for their family (65 percent).

Millenials are the most likely to overeat due to stress

Millennials are more likely than other generations to say they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods due to stress — 50 percent say they have done so in the past month, compared to 36 percent of Gen Xers, 36 percent of Boomers and 19 percent of Matures.5 Millennials are also most likely to say they ate unhealthy foods or overate because of a food craving (62 percent vs. 52 percent of Gen Xers and 53 percent of Boomers).

As we become older we learn better ways to handle stress.

Have US teens always felt more stressed than adults, or is this a recent development?

I suspect that older people have always been better at managing stress.  But today’s “delayed adolescence”, with its postponement of the age when young adults assume primary responsibility for self-sufficiency, may be a reason for a reduced ability to manage stress successfully.  One source of stress that has grown for teens is the complex process of planning and paying for college.  Other past sources of  stress like dangerous industrial working conditions are no longer a problem.  If I had to choose, I would select college planning as my worst problem over many others that adolescents have faced in previous years.

Related:  “‘Every 20-something I know is in therapy for something’” (Cost of College)

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American Psychological Association, Stress in America, February 11, 2014.

July 25, 2014

Where are the most racially segregated schools?

by Grace

The Nation’s Most Segregated Schools Aren’t Where You’d Think They’d Be

The Huffington Post reports that the “nation’s most segregated schools aren’t in the deep south — they’re in New York”.  This was from a report released earlier this year by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

That means that in 2009, black and Latino students in New York “had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools,” in which white students made up less than 10 percent of enrollment and “the lowest exposure to white students,” wrote John Kucsera, a UCLA researcher, and Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor and the project’s director. “For several decades, the state has been more segregated for blacks than any Southern state, though the South has a much higher percent of African American students,” the authors wrote. The report, “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation,” looked at 60 years of data up to 2010, from various demographics and other research.

There’s also a high level of “double segregation,” Orfield said in an interview, as students are increasingly isolated not only by race, but also by income: the typical black or Latino student in New York state attends a school with twice as many low-income students as their white peers. That concentration of poverty brings schools disadvantages that mixed-income schools often lack: health issues, mobile populations, entrenched violence and teachers who come from the least selective training programs. “They don’t train kids to work in a society that’s diverse by race and class,” he said. “There’s a systematically unequal set of demands on those schools.”

New York City schools are the most segregated.

…  Of the city’s 32 Community School Districts, 19 had 10 percent or fewer white students in 2010. All school districts in the Bronx fell into that category. More than half of New Yorkers are black or Latino, but most neighborhoods have little diversity — and recent changes in school enrollment policies, spurred by the creation of many charter schools, haven’t helped, Orfield argues.

Charter schools tend to be extremely segregated.

Only 8 percent of New York City charter schools are considered multiracial, meaning they had a white enrollment of 14.5 percent or above, the New York City average. “Charter schools take the metro’s segregation to an extreme,” according to the report. “Nearly all charters” in the Bronx and Brooklyn were “intensely segregated” in 2010, meaning they had less than 10 percent white student enrollment….

… Charter schools in urban areas tend to be segregated, in part, because they seek to serve specific low-income communities. Some intentionally cater to one race, with a focus on black culture.

Other top states are also located in the North.

Illinois, Michigan, Maryland and New Jersey followed New York on the most-segregated-schools list.

Segregation may be the least of the problems faced by schools.

I don’t think segregation is the biggest problem schools must face.  In many cases, as charter schools show, segregation is simply the result of a school’s mission to serve a particular type of student.  Furthermore, past attempts at desegregation have often failed to meet their goals but instead created new problems for minority students.  I’ve seen firsthand desegregation attempts that created white flight and left urban schools in worse shape than before.

———

Joy Resmovits, “The Nation’s Most Segregated Schools Aren’t Where You’d Think They’d Be”, Huffington Post, 03/26/201.

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