Why do Americans stink at math?

In The New York Times Magazine, Elizabeth Green describes how the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics published manifestos throughout the 1980s prescribing radical changes in teaching math. These were adopted to excellent results by other countries, notably Japan, but discarded in the U.S. “It wasn’t the first time Americans dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it,” Green writes. Such efforts stretch back to the 1800s, the same scenario every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and a return to conventional practice. The trouble starts when teachers are asked to implement innovative ideas without guidance. With unprepared teachers, reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping. This frustrating descent is underway again, Green says, as states adopt the Common Core without good systems for instructing educators. Inadequate implementation leads to the inevitable conclusion: Why try something we’ve failed at a half-dozen times before, only to watch it backfire? Yet math reforms rise again and again, since our traditional way of teaching math simply doesn’t work — as proficiency data for both students and adults attest. Japan could make changes because teachers depended on jugyokenkyu, a set of practices to hone their craft. There, a teacher plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers, along with at least one university observer. Observers discuss with the teacher what’s taken place. Of all lessons Japan can offer the United States, the most important might be a belief in patience and the possibility of change. Training teachers in a new way of thinking takes time, and American parents must be patient.

(Source: The New York Times)

Peer review basically absent

A new article from the American Educational Research Association finds that less than one percent of articles published in top education research journals are replication studies, even though replicating important findings is essential for improving usefulness of research for policymakers and practitioners. The report analyzes the complete publication history of the current 100 education journals with the highest five-year “impact factor” (how often articles are cited in other scholarly work), finding only 0.13 percent of published articles were replications. Contrary to medicine but similar to psychology, nearly 68 percent of replications successfully replicate findings of original studies, 19.5 percent have mixed results (supporting some, but not all, findings), and 13.1 percent fail to replicate any original findings. Replications were significantly less likely to succeed when there was no overlap in authorship between original and replicating articles. Replications conducted by completely new researchers were successful 54 percent of the time; when conducted by original authors in the same publication, 88.7 percent were successful. Replications in a new publication but with at least one author on both original and replicating studies had a 70.6 percent success rate.  Currently, one in 500 education studies are replications, an increase from one in 2,000 in 1990.

(Source: edr.sagepub.com)

The latest EdNext survey

A recent survey from Education Next finds a sharp change in public opinion around the Common Core. Administered to 5,000 respondents in May and June 2014, it finds 53 percent favor the standards, compared with 65 percent in 2013. Opposition has doubled from 13 to 26 percent; those taking no position is unchanged at 21 percent. The survey also found that Americans asked to evaluate teaching quality think, on average, about half the teachers in local schools deserve a grade of A or B, but more than one-fifth deserve a D or F. The average teacher thinks 69 percent of colleagues deserve an A or a B, but admit 5 percent deserve an F, with another 8 percent no better than a D. More than one-fourth of families with school-age children have educated a child in a setting other than a traditional public school. Eighty-seven percent have experience with traditional schools, most relying on them exclusively. Still, 14 percent have used private schools, and 9 percent have enrolled children in charters. Charters attract 15 percent of African Americans with school-age children. Also, the public is less inclined to favor using funds for class-size reduction if they know its cost relative to the cost of teacher pay and the purchase of new books and technologies.

(Source: educationnext.org)

American Falls from the Canadian side. Last tour boats of the day heading out. 

American Falls from the Canadian side. Last tour boats of the day heading out. 

An OB/GYN writes to George Will about college rape

Dear Mr. Will,

I read your recent column on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault” and am somewhat taken aback by your claim that forcing colleges to take a tougher stand on sexual assault somehow translates into a modern version of The Crucible that replaces witchcraft with rape hysteria.

I was specifically moved to write to you because the rape scenario that you describe somewhat incredulously is not unfamiliar to me. Not because I’ve heard it in many different iterations (I have sadly done many rape kits), but because it was not unlike my own rape. The lead up was slightly different, but I too was raped by someone I knew and did not emerge with any obvious physical evidence that a crime had been committed. I tried to push him away, I said “No!” and “Get off” multiple times,” but he was much stronger and suddenly I found my hands pinned behind my back and a forearm crushing my neck and for a few minutes I found it hard to breathe. I was 22, far from home, scared, and shocked and so at some point I just stopped kicking and let him finish. Sound familiar? For several weeks I didn’t even think about it as a rape because that was easier than admitting the truth. Again, sound familiar?

(Source: Dear Mr. Will, I read your recent column on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault” and am somewhat taken aback by your claim that forcing colleges to take a tougher stand on sexual assault somehow translates into a modern version of The Crucible that replaces witchcraft with rape hysteria. I was specifically moved to write to you because the rape scenario that you describe somewhat incredulously is not unfamiliar to me. Not because I’ve heard it in many different iterations (I have sadly done many rape kits), but because it was not unlike my own rape. The lead up was slightly different, but I too was raped by someone I knew and did not emerge with any obvious physical evidence that a crime had been committed. I tried to push him away, I said “No!” and “Get off” multiple times,” but he was much stronger and suddenly I found my hands pinned behind my back and a forearm crushing my neck and for a few minutes I found it hard to breathe. I was 22, far from home, scared, and shocked and so at some point I just stopped kicking and let him finish. Sound familiar)

The Gifted Debate

Should public schools offer separate programs for “gifted” students? asks The New York Times on its Room for Debate blog. Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed write that New York City’s gifted and talented (G&T) programs have long exacerbated socioeconomic and racial segregation within schools. Instead of providing segregated tracks, they write, schools should take a school-wide approach to gifted education, incorporating identified students into mixed-ability classrooms.
Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute strongly favors segregation by ability, arguing that it puts future innovators at risk to hope that overburdened classroom teachers can offer the teaching and learning environments gifted children need through “differentiation.”
Economist Darrick Hamilton writes that tracking students by ability is self-fulfilling, and locks students into hierarchical groups; particularly pernicious is so-called ability-group sorting across and within schools that is largely defined by race and class position at birth. Economist Bruce Sacerdote feels that data, theory, and decades of experience show that tracking can have a big payoff, since high-ability students benefit most from high-ability peers. Wholesale elimination of G&T programs or specialized high schools could have serious consequences for bright but not wealthy students

(Source: The New York Times)

Does STEM work?

Several recent studies question the efficacy of STEM-focused schools, writes Holly Yettick for Education Week. A report in The Journal of Educational Research indicated that students in STEM schools in North Carolina were significantly more likely to take core, advanced, and vocational-technical STEM courses than peers in other schools; however, in Florida, STEM students took vocational-technical STEM courses at higher rates, but took core and advanced STEM courses at the same rate as peers in non-STEM schools.

Students in STEM-focused schools in both Florida and North Carolina were no more likely to perform well on state math exams between 2006 and 2008. Another report in the same journal looked specifically at STEM-focused elementary and middle schools, finding results mixed. Transferring to STEM magnets didn’t change achievement trajectories; students performed at the same levels as peers who transferred to non-STEM schools in the same district. Still another study examined math, biology, chemistry, and physics course-taking and exam results for 70,000 students attending both selective and nonselective public STEM high schools in New York City.

The STEM schools appeared at first glance to have higher scores and STEM course-taking rates than other high schools, but once researchers accounted for demographics and prior test scores, most STEM-school advantages disappeared, suggesting they were disproportionately attracting higher-achieving students interested in STEM.

(Source: blogs.edweek.org)

Those Finns: Schools and Technology

With little education technology in the classroom, Finnish students have repeatedly outperformed American students on international tests, writes Caitlin Emma for Politico.com. The country uses innovative teaching strategies in the classroom — just generally without incorporating technology. Finnish students, even those in the most modern schools, aren’t playing the latest learning games in the classroom. Even upper secondary students who receive laptops from their school leave their computers at home unless instructed otherwise — which doesn’t happen often.
According to the latest PISA results and a study conducted by the European Commission, there’s roughly one computer per five Finnish students in schools. In the U.S., that ratio is almost one to one (but the breakdown across individual rural, urban, and suburban districts depends on a district’s financial resources). At grade eight, Finnish students’ reported use of school computers is the lowest in the European Union, with only 27 percent saying they use computers at least once a week. That said, Finland is also due for a new set of education standards, and part of that effort means likely boosting the role of technology in the classroom. Perhaps ironically, Finland hopes to become more economically competitive, pinning hopes on its students to become future technological innovators.

(Source: politico.com)

Teacher performance laws, across the country

An increasing number of states are mandating that teacher performance be considered in employment decisions, including tenure and layoffs, according to a 50-state policy review of teacher-tenure laws by the Education Commission of the States.

Three states — Florida, Kansas, and North Carolina — have attempted to eliminate tenure or are phasing it out. Florida and Idaho fit this category in 2011, but Idaho voters have since repealed that state’s law eliminating tenure. Sixteen states require the results of teacher performance evaluations be used in decisions about tenure or non-probationary status, versus 10 in 2011. Seven states have laws returning tenured or non-probationary teachers to probationary status if they receive ineffective ratings. Arizona and Louisiana have joined this group since 2011, and Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, and Tennessee already had such laws. Eleven states require districts to consider performance in deciding which teachers to lay off when declining enrollments or economic factors necessitate reductions in force. Georgia, Louisiana, and Maine are the most recent states making performance a primary consideration.

In addition, Washington added this requirement in law effective 2015-16. Ten states explicitly prohibit the use of tenure or seniority as a primary factor in making lay-off decisions: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia. In 2012, only five states had such prohibitions in law. 

(Source: ecs.org)

“Using test scores to evaluate teachers will create more problems than it will solve. Excellent teachers will be erroneously labeled as incompetent, while poor teachers may get a pass. Students will not benefit.”