Saturday, December 26, 2015

The New Math Wars

by James Tanton

Monday, December 21, 2015


Just a quick question ...

With everything that goes on in a public school these days, why has actual teaching been shuffled so far down the list of priorities, behind:
  • Fire Drill/Police Dog Drug Search
  • Professional Development
  • Addressing Damage in the Bathrooms
  • Sports in all its forms (mostly afternoon disruptions, but we're coming up on skiing and snowboard season, and spring has golf ... 8am meets and competitions are the norm.
  • "Pardon the interruption for this announcement."
  • Service Organizations.
  • Class Fundraising going door-to-door.
  • Class Meetings 
  • Pep Rallies
  • Anti-Bad Things Assemblies
  • Teacher Education/School Visits/conferences/workshops
  • Principal doing Teacher Evaluations (Major disruption when he sits clicking his laptop)
  • Anything the Administration finds on their calendars.
  • Send the kids to the office if they're late ... to get a pass and come back to class.
  • Talk to the kid in trouble, set up a detention ... for missing class.
  • Meeting with the State College Scholarship rep who tells them they need to be sure they're attending class. Said meeting happens during class.
  • Anti-Drug counselor pulls them to have them sit in her comfy chair and eat cookies.
  • Volunteer Fire Department Rescue calls.
  • Field Trips for non-academic things.
  • Family vacations and appointments.
  • Illnesses that mysteriously occur on test days.
  • Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice.
"Give them the assignment so they can make up the work. We'll be out all week."

"This is the only time we could schedule 'Bodybuilders Against Drugs' and I didn't want to let the opportunity pass by."

"I think everyone in the department should attend this workshop."

You might point out that teacher education and workshops and school visits are intended to improve the overall teaching and improve the school. I worry that the professional development is explicitly expected to take a couple of years to come to full fruition ... and this is the only education these kids will get.

Sure, I can take the long view, but what of that senior?  What will replace this year for her if we continually mess with it? It's part of what lead to my previous rant about research.  I WANT to use the best ideas, but I don't care to spend a lot of time trying to winnow out the chaff and uncover the lone jewel of future glory at the expense of the students I already have.

I'm expressly NOT wishing for repetitive, boring, lock-step, soul-crushing monotony. This isn't a prison and can't be run like one. That's not what this is about. It's about predictability and finding security in knowing what's coming and when, and that school, unlike many of their homes, is about habits of mind and habits of behavior and learning everything you can while it's still free.

You might think it silly, but knowing that "Every Friday is a quiz in History" is actually comforting to a majority of students. The worst thing in a high school is to change everything suddenly. When you call "everyone out to the courtyard for an impromptu dance to relieve stress", you frustrate everyone who was just about to get to work, you get the ADHD kids going on something new at the exact wrong time, and you raise the anxiety levels of everyone.

It's easy to sit in an office and look at a shiny new workshop proposal and find a blank day on the calendar to schedule it in isolation, but that's messing with the rhythm of the school. When there's no rhythm in a school, there's no soul and no quiet confidence.

When did teaching move so far down the list of priorities?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hey Researchers!

Hey researchers. you know what would be cool?

How about if you settle some questions for us?  I've been in education a long time and I've heard what seems like infinite variations on the same questions, along with what seems like infinite new thoughts that came out of the blue.  Every time our principal or superintendent goes to a conference or a workshop, it seems they bring back a new idea, a new structure, a new way of doing things that "research has shown" to be the shiny new penny of educational thought.

When you look a little deeper, you find it was done on 65 elementary students in NYC ... and you're supposed to try and develop curricula for your 10th grade math classes that follows this brand spanking new paradigm.

Answers are NOT overrated. The whole point of research is to answer a question, either to prove or disprove it. Research that is only about finding something new is exploration, and while it does have it's purpose, it's not what we need in this country at this time in this industry.

We have lots of new ideas. I, for one, am sick of all of them. What we don't need is more new ideas to be trotted out, forced on the students and faculty, only to be replaced when the fashion statement of the month changes.

What we do need is to weed out the bad ideas, the bad policies, and the bad science that we already are following, used to follow and are considering going back to, or that we might consider in the future.

If you simply MUST develop new ideas and new ways of doing things, please in the name of anything you find holy, write the results down and save them for the next round of research on that topic.  

Researchers!  Instead of thinking of brand new things, how about you settle a few debates?

I know. It's boring.  You want to be "Fresh!" and "New!" and "Creative!" and here I'm asking you to determine the pros and cons of Semester Block vs 4x4 Block vs 40 min (8periods) vs 50 minutes (7periods).

That would be helpful.

Do a lot of research on it. Use a lot of schools and do it with HS students.  Settle the debate we're having at every goddamned school in the country and settle it so definitively that we can all tell our principals to go pound sand if they say something stupid. And make the research available so we can actually read it?

That would be helpful.

How about Proficiency-Based Grading and Graduation Requirements?  Do they work? If so, what did they look like when they did work and when they didn't? Is this just Standards Based Grading updated with a shiny new name for the new decade or is there really something good here?

How about getting into whether we should be taking statewide tests or home-grown final exams?

How about the use of technology in the early grades; in middle grades; in high school?

Don't tell me about your cutting edge research if it doesn't involve multiple grades and a full range of socio-economic levels encompassing thousands of students taking all the courses. (At least tell me what those grades are, in a font just as large as the headline.)

Don't tell me that research has shown that you shouldn't teach the subtraction algorithm ... unless you also tell me that the research was done exclusively on k-4th graders and was somewhat inconclusive.

Why not?  If you remember, I don't teach k-4 grades and my classes really should know the algorithm.

Hattie does this kind of thing all the time and my principals eat it up. Hattie puts out results with this really precise measurement that isn't very accurate. Why is nearly all of Hattie the stuff of nightmares for HS teachers?

Because our principals can't read. They see a big shiny number and say "We should do that, too."

They don't take the time to delve into the conditions of the research and merely assume that we should be changing RIGHT NOW so they can retain their jobs.

My district has gone to a half-day inservice every week to develop new initiatives .. and that's messing up the students something fierce.  We faculty, in the meantime, are going nowhere fast, wandering through tedious and worthless makework that the curriculum coordinator dreams up. Ill-defined terms, vague promises that "This will all make sense" and exercises that belong in a 6th grade classroom the day before Christmas break, all combine to make us want to tear our hair out.

Show me something that WORKED and let me build from that.  If it doesn't work, we need to have some way of reporting that back to the same researchers so others won't have to go through the same disruption and failure.

EVERY school that tries your new idea is now part of the research; all data should be kept. It never is ... in fact education is the only field where all of the research is case-control, the selection bias is ignored, the publication bias is widespread, and the results don't ever seem to matter ... all while the subjects of the research suffer through another set of changes and failures in the vague hope by the administrators that "Someday, we get it right." I'm here to tell you that "Someday" hasn't arrived yet.

My only consolation is that we're not experimenting on my kids.

"But it's backed by research!"

Yeah, show me. Prove it.

In the meantime, I've got to get back to work.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Foolish Consistency

A discussion with a student at the end of a calculus class began with her saying "I feel that I didn't learn my fractions AT ALL in middle school and elementary school." It made me laugh a little because she was, in the same breath, saying how confident she felt about them now.

And we all know where the errors in calculus are ...

But, her next comment nestled in nicely with something that's been festering in my brain for a while. "My teacher last year had us use calculators way more than you do. He wanted decimal answers instead of √2, decimals instead of fractions. I think I like fractions better than decimals now." (I'm paraphrasing, here.)

Coincidentally, I had had a discussion with him the previous day about why I had given an online quiz on simplifying radical expressions like √300 = 10√3. He didn't see the point while I feel that it's a good thing for algebra 2 students to understand and certainly within their wheelhouse. It helps build the understandings that I feel are important.  Additionally, it's on the SAT, ACT, AP.

His point, equally valid, is that the RealWorldtm is increasingly going digital, demanding numerical answers and using computers to run simulations and solve problems. The diagonal of a square is going to be measured as 14.14 feet, not 10√2 feet.

In reply to my student, I said "We're different ... we focus on slightly different things and both are necessary.  Neither is a better teacher and neither has all the answers, but by having had both you can now apply either approach as appropriate and as suits you.  It would be terrible if you always had the same teacher for your entire career and never saw another point of view, another frame of reference."

Why do I mention this now?

Her comment had resonated with me because we're currently in the process of converting the grading system to Proficiency-Based Grading, and Carnegie Units to Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements.

Transformations this extensive require long and elaborate discussions about how we measure, about what we measure, about how we justify our decisions to parents and colleges, and about how, whether, and when we teachers will measure.

Because our supervisory district administration aren't really teachers, and our curriculum coordinator used to teach elementary school and some MS social studies, everything must have a rubric or it isn't proper.  As well, everything we used to do was BAD and must be changed.

"We can't use the word 'Proficient' because it's not a growth word."
We're being asked, "Do we use a rubric?  Since your answer should be 'yes', which one of these four is the one you're all going to use?"

The fact that we spent nearly an hour discussing whether to use the word "proficient", "competent", or "skilled", and whether the top level would be modified with "highly", "advanced", or "with distinction" should give you a good idea of how divorced this all was from real students and real teaching. We never did finish that conversation, but we did begin to spend time arguing over whether the four levels should be considered five if there was a checkbox labelled "Not Enough Data to Measure" in addition to Highly 'word', 'word', Nearly 'word', Beginning 'word'.

The funny part is the explicit statement is that we will use the same rubric throughout the building, that every teacher, in every course, for every student, for every transferable skill (the non-content skills), will use the same rubric to determine proficiency.  If any measurement does not use the rubric, it isn't measured properly and cannot be defended as fair and consistent across the board.

This is foolish. A foolish consistency adored by little statesmen.

or, in this case, by administrators.

There are differences between students just as there are differences between teachers.  We cannot maintain absolute control over 18 year-old seniors in the same way we do 10 year-old elementary students. 8th-grade Algebra 1 needs a different approach than 11th-grade Informal Geometry. Some kids thrive on general questions that allow them to explore while others need more algorithmic approaches. We must allow some teachers to holistically judge an essay while others are focused on grammatical issues along with the content.

It wasn't that long ago we were all assured that it was right and proper to be adjusting our teaching to the "learning styles" of the students. Whatever happened to that?

Well, now we are to be consistent. Consistent in our teaching, consistent in our grading, consistent in our departments, consistent between departments, consistent across high schools in the SU.  Everyone consistent. Everyone using the same rubric ... as if a rubric were the only way and that rubric the only acceptable one.

Friends, the pendulum has swung towards "ROBOT", the French army is nowhere near Toledo, and the Inquisition is still safe from its enemies. I'm used to this quinquennial flip-flopping but I don't have to like it.

The Inquisition Administration has looked at teaching and decided that everyone needs to be consistent.  That's pure, unadulterated, bull.

The only consistency we should expect should be within a course ... but even that is muddied by IEPs, behavior plans, 504s, and other, very necessary, adjustments.

Here's the important point: Differences are GOOD.

Diversity in background is GOOD. Differences in approach are GOOD. Sure, you need to have a progression through the department that includes everything you've deemed important, but you also need to have individuals and their strengths.

Way back in the depths of time, when I was in high school, Mr. Corbin would just look at my essay and declare it a "B".  I thought him harsh until I looked at everyone else's in our little complaint session afterwards ... lo and behold, that "B" paper of mine was not as well written as John's "A" paper and was better than Peter's "C" paper.

When it came time to take English from Mr. Clark, we knew the rules changed.  Every grammatical error, no matter how insignificant, meant a full letter grade down.  One spelling mistake turned an "A" paper to a "B" paper.   To add to our teenaged angst, it was timed and, while we knew what day we'd be doing this, we didn't know the topic.  We would walk into the class on Wednesday, see the topic on the board, and then have 45 minutes to produce a page-and-a-half essay. (college-ruled, of course -- not of that wide-lined crap.)

Oh, how we bitched about that ...

... but we did learn to write. 

Was Mr. Clark a better teacher?  I would argue that he was because of his amazing command of the topic and the stories he could tell and the standards he set, but part of what made him good was the preparation we all got from Corbin and the fact that the two men were different. Corbin introduced us to American Lit. Clark introduced us to writers; Thoreau, and Frost, and Jacob Bronowski.  Corbin didn't mark down for minor grammatical mistakes; Clark did. We were students; we adapted. That's what you do.

"Yes, you can borrow this copy of Robert Frost's poetry, but make sure you give it back ... he and I wrote to each other by sending this book back and forth and making margin notes. I'm fond of it."
Trying to impose consistency on these two gentlemen would have been foolish and counter-productive.

Trying to impose a common rubric for AP Calculus and 7th-grade civics is foolish and counter-productive.

Trying to impose consistency even within our department is foolish and counter-productive. He's a math major; I'm an engineer; of course we look at things differently.

He uses the calculators more than I do; I ask for more mental math than he does. "Who's better?" misses the point that, over the course of four years, students get both.

"Who's better?" Why would you even ask that question?

In the long run, I suppose, it doesn't really matter what gets decided in these silly little meetings.  I intend to use the AP scoring style for AP calculus, a variation of it for Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus and I will probably do many of the same things that I've been doing for years ... the successful things, at least. I don't think I'll ever stop changing subtly.

And that's the point.  When I find something good, an idea from another math teacher or even one of the curriculum people, I insert it into the folder. As it becomes relevant, I work it into the daily routine or the once-a-week, or whatever.

When it comes time to taking advice on how to teach high school math, though, I don't have much tolerance for people who have never taught anyone older than 12 and who couldn't describe a data set graphically if I did it for them ... and they're going to tell me the words I must use and the forms I must use and the rubric I will use to declare proficiency in standards that we haven't even decided upon yet?

Thanks for Reading.
I've got to get back to work.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Young Girl Learns Nothing.

I love the caption: "A young girl learns how to hold an airsoft gun during Youth Day at the NRA's annual meeting in Houston on May 5, 2013."

If anyone were paying attention, they would notice that the little girl is probably not learning anything; she's completely distracted by the things on the table.

Pretty much sums up the NRA and its vaunted training programs.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Do This and the Bunny Dies

Nominated by @MathsPadJame,

Seriously? Nix The Tricks, Dammit!

I'm trying to hold it together, people ...

We've both had enough of that fraction mistake.

That's not even reasonable ....

One for the younger ones ...

Can't remember where I saw this first. I cleaned up the original images a bit and tried to keep it sensible, but between the kids' and my evil senses of humor ... this project has grown out of control.

We might as well just enjoy it.

Save the Rabbit!

Poor Kitten ... this happens all the time.

Such a shame how often that poor puppy gets it ...

Damn you, TI !

Because we all know a Fawn ...

Pandas are endangered, people. Cut that out!

Poor, poor Grumpy Cat.

Don't make him cry, people!

You heartless bastards.

I have nothing left to say.

Do You REALLY want him to win?

There's more!

Look at how sad he is ...

Don't you want friends ....

Poor bastard ...

SO very disappointed ...

It's just mean for you to do this ...

This just makes me sad ...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Incorrect Data isn't Useful

The other day I went to the Health Center for a followup checkup. I had been in previously and had gotten some anti-biotics for an insect bite that got infected. Simple, right? As part of the visit, the nurses are instructed to take routine weight and blood pressure measurements.

I know my blood pressure, so I was surprised that her diastolic reading was 20 points lower than it normally is. I remarked on that. Her reply was "Lower score is good, right?" in the tone of voice that conveyed clearly that I shouldn't be questioning her.

I'm thinking, "Sure ... unless it's a bad measurement." I get that BP is inexact, but it's a bit silly to refuse to re-measure it when the patient points it out. 20 points can make all the difference to the doctor's diagnosis of my overall health.

I decided that I would request the printout from the front desk as I left, the one with all of the day's numbers and decisions from the visit. I read the scale ... same weight as two weeks ago. On the printout, though, it was different ... she had obviously transposed digits when entering the data. In two weeks, I had "gained 23 pounds" and then lost it again in the 30 minutes it took to drive home. My blood pressure changed by 20 points, and that's a lot.

Bad data makes for inappropriate diagnosis.

Bad data makes for bad education policy, too.

The state of Vermont is "suffering" through the release of the first round of SBAC scores despite our scores being better than most other states (we're usually top 5).  "Results are much lower" and already my principal is bitching about it, despite declaring at the time, "We don't care what the scores are, we just want to get the process right." (I'm paraphrasing but that was the intent.)

I'm all for improvement, but I hate basing change on the back of bad data.  Our diagnosis is flawed because our data is flawed, and the prescription runs counter to other policies that the State has imposed.

First, the SBAC has measurement errors just like my nurse had.  Many students took that test knowing that scores would not be held against them, that there was absolutely no chance that anyone would see the scores in fewer than six months or act upon them to set courses for this year or college applications. Additionally, the test itself is drastically different in format (and it's all done through the Chromebook) ... a test completed entirely on-line.

There are no multiple choice questions and kids can have scratch paper, but they're not used to doing math that way. There's a lot of "drag the factors to the answer box" and write three paragraphs explaining why you know that this is a straight line .. and few can stretch out an explanation that far.

Second, and just as  important, the SBAC "passing scores" were decided upon after the fact, to make the percent-passing numbers match what the state had decided they should be ...

That's right. Before the kids even took the test, they told us that there would be a state-wide passing rate of 33% on the HS math test. Then they set the cut-score to match.

Third, add in the fact that we are a small school and we pride ourselves on being able to provide a more personalized education that your average public school, including having personalized learning plans that had quite a few students taking Algebra 2 as seniors. I'm sure you can see where this is going: many of our kids were taking a test heavily based on mathematics they hadn't seen yet.

This runs directly counter to another major initiative in the State of Vermont, the Personalized Learning Plan. Sometimes called "Personal Pathway to Graduation", the initiative requires schools to design different course pathways to graduation for each student as appropriate. This includes allowing schools to schedule certain kids into a faster progression for math and others into a more moderately paced path that might not even include algebra 2. It means that "pre-algebra, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2" might be the most appropriate for a student.

Taking that approach and then complaining that they don't know algebra 2 by March of their junior year is silly.

It's the rhetorical equivalent of reading a graph that says that Pre-calculus students do better on the NAEP and then concluding that we must make sure every student takes Pre-calculus by the time state tests are given in the junior year

which a previous principal actually said.

So when the bright bulb in the room points out that we teachers should prepare the kids for college and careers, and should have prepared the kids better for this test, and "If you hold the kids to a higher standard, they'll rise to meet that standard," I will calmly channel Dick Cheney and say that "you go to war with the students you have, not the students you wish you had."

Finally, the teachers are not allowed to know what's on the test.  I don't want to teach to the test, but I'd like to know what is included.I'll give the same assessments I would already have planned, but I might change some questions to a similar format, for example.

Also, I'm not willing to just take their word for it that the test is appropriate. We can't check for bad questions that might have tripped up our students and we can't check that the answers they gave were correct or not. We have to take Pearson's word that the scorers actually knew what they were doing.  After reading Todd Farley's book, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry and others with similar tales of the realities of corporate test making and scoring, I'm not particularly willing to do that.

The NY Regents is an example of a relatively open and transparent test-making system, but it has many errors. The NY teachers can catch these problems and get them fixed. If we look at Mr. Honner's long-running series reviewing the NY State Regents exams in mathematics, why should we expect that the SBAC tests will somehow be perfect if there is no chance for oversight?

The SBAC is a closed system with no accountability that scores the tests in strange ways, fails to take into account the realities of the students, will not allow anyone to analyze or even examine any of the questions (unlike the SAT which I can see in its entirely within a few weeks), spits out pre-determined results that do not reflect student abilities, and makes everyone wait an unconscionably long time for those results ... much too long for the school to do anything with them.

I can't use the scores because they aren't detailed enough, timely enough or accurate enough.

I guess I'll just teach math and ignore all that bluster.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I guess we have to talk about cellphones again.

Actually, we need to talk about cops in school, euphemistically called School Resource Officers, as if they were a librarian or something.  This is a bit of a rant, in case you didn't realize.

This came across Facebook.
Sadly, there was a time when kids were taught to respect adults, in general. I work with some amazing teachers, but parents show open disrespect for teachers, so why should their kids be any different? todays parents are so over involved with their kid...
Total and utter bullshit.

"That time when kids were taught to respect their elders" and things were rosy and happy and nobody sassed an adult ... didn't exist except in the fevered dreams of people who think they weren't Royal Pains in the Ass themselves when they were teenagers.

"Back then" kids were just as disrespectful and just as stupid about it. The difference between then and now was that a teacher who made harsh and unreasonable demands could arbitrarily smack a kid - corporal punishment was pretty common - and there was nothing the kid could do. The teacher could be totally and completely wrong and all of society would just fall in line. After the teacher got done slapping or spanking, the parents would probably deal out more punishment when the kid got home, "No Respect for Authority."

After the Tinker decision and other lawsuits, schools began to realize that they didn't have complete and total control of their students and never did, that "students' rights didn't stop at the schoolhouse door", that the Constitution and (in the case under discussion here) specifically, the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments weren't just for adults.

Kids are citizens, too, and have all of those pesky constitutional rights. Smacking them around for looking at a text (the modern day equivalent of passing a note) is ridiculous. Expecting them to hand over a phone to a teacher who will search through it or not give it back until some unknown time ... is likewise unreasonable if you only do it to one student and only when you catch her and only if you're in a bad mood because your day wasn't going well. If you want to apply discipline, you have to be fair and equitable.

Teachers who do something creative, like having the students line up their phones on the "chalktray", have a much better record because it's done to everyone and becomes a habit. Kids can deal with that.

What they hate is the "I'm annoyed, therefore you are wrong and I'm taking your phone because reasons and if you question my AUTHORITAH, I will have you arrested."

Why does the teacher need to make this an issue? All accounts say the teacher asked her to put away the cellphone but she didn't do it fast enough (emphasis mine). How does this justify a harsh takedown by a cop, public arrest, jail and fines? Any teacher/admin/cop/adult who escalates this to the level in that video really needs to take a few psych courses, and do some serious introspective work ... is that student really threatening you that much? Is the student use of a cellphone anywhere near the disruption that the policeman caused?

Nowadays, schools try to slide past the Constitution by using weasel words and police phrasing and lingo to attempt to do this crap. We changed from "Inappropriate Language or Behavior" to "Assault", "Bullying" or "Harassment" ... or my favorite response to one boy shoving another at a locker, "ASSAULT and BATTERY, Third Degree."

The kid who recorded the incident was also arrested ... for "Causing a Distraction."
WTF, people?
Then, there's the kid who recorded the video on her cellphone: she was also arrested ... for "Causing a Distraction." So a cop in the room who takes a girl forcibly from her chair and throws her against a wall and handcuffs her -- that's not a distraction but a second kid with a phone is? I can assure you that my difficulty keeping the class on task would have a lot more to do with the cop than anything else.

We see this all the time as schools struggle to pretend they're Gods of All They Survey. A girl wears spandex leggings and the administrator calls it "a Safety Issue." It's not.

A kid wears a hat and we call it "Disrepect" and if the kid doesn't take it off instantly it becomes "Refusal To Follow Orders" or "Insubordination" or "Disruption". It's not.

A kid gives an Advil to another kid because of PMS, we call it "Illegal Drug Distribution" or invoke some "No Tolerance Drug Policy" as if that applied here. It doesn't.

South Carolina even has a law against disrupting school, a law that carries a punishment of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.  "Disruption" used to be shooting spitballs and the punishment was a detention. Now it's a major criminal offense if you want to push it that far.

Police need to use specific, precise language that has been scrubbed of as much bias and humanity as possible because they are dealing with adults and a criminal justice system. If the police get involved, there are serious consequences if guilt is proven.

When the situation calls for jail time or extensive fines, we absolutely must call the police. This is not something untrained school personnel can handle. Anything you say can be used against you in court; you have the right to an attorney; you have the right to remain silent. The policemen can use DEADLY force if public safety is at stake.

The "School Resource Officer" is still a cop. Every interaction with a student is written up, recorded and reported. He is not a friend and he cannot ignore things.

The other 99.9% of the time, school discipline is not at that point and the cops should not be involved. Schools need to get out of the policeman's mindset, to remove that language from our speech and discipline policies.

We are not cops; we are dealing with children, actually and legally.

Passing notes in class, while rude and should be dealt with by school officials, is NOT a criminal offense. Cops should not be involved.

I don't want kids handing out Advil  - there are medical reasons. So I send them to the office/nurse to get some for free (where the nurse can say "That's enough for today" or "Is there something I need to know about that bruising all over your body? Know that I am required by law to call the state abuse hotline.") This kid in this case is nothing for a policeman to deal with. The abuser, yes.

"If all you've got is a cop ... everyone looks like a criminal" isn't quite accurate, really. He's required to treat every interaction as a possible criminal case; he has no choice. He is a policeman and he must follow rules.

"If a major incident occurs that needs the US Justice System, we'll call the cops"
"The SRO is there to deal with major incidents."

But that has become
"We pay him $90,000 dollars a year and he's not doing anything else right now,
so we'll send him to do this task we don't feel like doing."

and in some cases:
"The kid won't listen to us. SRO, you take care of it."

And that's how passing notes becomes a criminal offense. That's how refusing to hand over a phone can lead to forcible takedown, arrest, and jail time.

School administrations have increasingly becoming a cadre of self-important fools who have never taught a day in their lives and who have no idea what they're doing. 

A Professional relationship or a personal one?
Has the administration abdicated its responsibility to teach behavior and self-discipline to a policeman who must follow completely different and far stricter rules of interpersonal contact? I think so.

Here's a thought: If your SRO is expected to be a friendly guy, messing with kids and always has a smile ... do the kids know he is really a cop? Is the disrespect some claim as a reason for the arrest partly because kids have been calling him by his first name all this time?  Does he have a professional relationship with the students or a personal one?

A final point. Some reports claim the girl was recently orphaned. This is not true, but she was in foster care ... still a traumatic and depressing situation for a girl whose mother and grandmother are still alive. Think about what kind of home life that girl has lived. It doesn't excuse, but it does explain.

Thanks for reading. I've got to get back to work.

Anyone who wants to claim that the cop is there to protect the students from a "Bad Guy With a Gun", please just shut the fuck up and crawl back into your hole ... you have no idea what you're talking about.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

For some, College IS a waste of time

Walter Williams writes
"A good part of our higher education problem, explaining its spiraling cost, is that a large percentage of students currently attending college are ill-equipped and incapable of doing real college work. They shouldn't be there wasting their own resources and those of their families and taxpayers."
Absolutely true. For many students, a well-paying blue-collar job is all they want, and all they will want from life.  And that's OK.

But Williams doesn't stop with that:
Another CCAP essay by Vedder and his colleagues, titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, such as flight attendants, taxi drivers and salesmen. Was college attendance a wise use of these students' time and the resources of their parents and taxpayers?
Well, no, not if you leave it at that.  Why is the assumption that all those college graduates are stopping there or that the jobs that don't require a degree are anything other than temporary?

Why are you making the assumption that college was useless for them just because they are accepting a job at the low end of the scale? This used to be called "working your way up the ladder" and perhaps some few of the waiters and and taxi drivers were looking to remain there permanently, but all of them?
Colleges should refuse admission to students who are unprepared to do real college work. That would not only help reveal shoddy primary and secondary education but also reduce the number of young people making unwise career choices. Sadly, that won't happen. College administrators want warm bodies to bring in money.
More importantly, why must college be the default?

So many people are being told that college is the only option for post-high-school 18 year-olds. It shouldn't be the default.

Not every kid belongs there ...
  • right now ... maybe a couple of years from now, when he's more mature, has gotten a job and realized that he wants more?
  • perhaps a technical school, certification program?
  • at all .... not every kid has the chops to get a college degree ... and that's okay. Honesty in self-evaluation used to be considered a sign of maturity. Not every kid wants to spend $80k to get a degree when he could just start being a woodcarver/artist, logger, mechanic, plumber, heavy equipment operator, welder ... just like his dad.
  • not at this time because he doesn't have the money, but he's going to work for a while and save up.
Come on, guidance counselors.  Your job is to counsel the students on the best options that exist for them, not shoehorn them into some version of your fantasy student.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lost Learning Time

This clown feels that he has the answer to our time crunch: teach bell-to-bell.

He calculates 5 hours a day of teaching; each 1 hour block takes about 5 minutes to get started and ends about 5 minutes early. Extrapolating out, he gets 10 minutes out of 60 minutes are "underutilized", 50 minutes per day, 250 minutes per week and 8700 minutes per year not utilized for learning. Okay, that's still 1/6 of the school year, or about 17% ... and it is a lot. I'm just not sure that the time can be re-couped so easily.

If you only have a couple of minutes to go from building to building or from floor to floor, there's no way that students can make the transitions if they are writing in their notebooks and not packing up until after the bell ring rings -- pack, walk, sip of water, pee break - walk, and barely make it to the next class.  Bell rings and most are still unpacking, getting out and starting up Chromebooks, etc.

Okay, so a few minutes start and finish. Meh. Just another fool extrapolating way too far ... like the people who calculate that time talking about football is somehow wasting billions of dollars per year in lost productivity.

But here's where it gets funny; here's where he failed miserably ... and where I'm not particularly sure the Good Doctor has been in a classroom recently.
"... and 8700 per year not utilized for learning. Now, let's be realistic and cut that number in half because we all know there are assemblies and other events that cut into learning time throughout the school year. That leaves us with 4,350 minutes of time not spent learning."
Cut in half?

Try "double it".  Assemblies aren't some magic eraser that makes those lost few minutes go away. Assemblies and field trips ADD to the lost time.
Sheesh, dude.

I'll pass, thanks.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Grading and Homework

from Justin Tarte, one of the signals that there is a grading problem in your classroom is:
When talking with parents at parent teacher conferences (which honestly need a complete overhaul by the way) you find yourself telling multiple parents that their child would be doing much better grade-wise if they would just do the homework.
It struck me that there are two ways to parse this.

(1) That the child was not doing the homework and the homework is graded so the zeroes bring the grade down even though the student understood everything and could prove it ... OR
(2) that the homework is key to building automaticity and understanding, and that by not doing any of it, we shouldn't be surprised that the grade, which is a reflection of the understanding and ability to use the material in new ways (proficiency) was an indicator of that lack of proficiency.

Is it any wonder that I hate professional development that takes such a simplistic and uninformed statement and builds policy around it ... despite the ambiguity inherent in the statement?

"Stop grading homework!"
"Stop giving homework!"
"Homework is counterproductive!"
"Proficiency-based Grading explicitly rejects grading homework."

Leading to a blanket policy across the board:

Is this really a good idea?

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Arthur Camins says:
The biggest problem with education is the U.S. is not test scores. Rather, three central problems plague public education in the United States. The most dramatic is inequity. There are vast inequities in educational resources and in the conditions of students’ lives, resulting in persistent race- and class-based disparities in educational outcomes.
Second, we are far too focused on a narrow range of outcomes – reading and math test scores – and not enough on a broader range of subject matter or essential domains, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. Third, we gravitate toward partial quick solutions, rather than thinking systemically and having the patience to allow strategies time to develop, take hold, and be refined.
Which is great ... but what do we do about it?