Monday, August 21, 2017

California State Ends Remediation

At the start of the month, the chancellor of California State pushed the button on the "nuclear option", ending all requirements for remedial-level skills in math and English in their college system. Much like CUNY, they are promising a doubling in graduation rates (from 20% to 40%).
Cal State plans to drop placement exams in math and English as well as the noncredit remedial courses that more than 25,000 freshmen have been required to take each fall — a radical move away from the way public universities traditionally support students who come to college less prepared than their peers.

In an executive order issued late Wednesday, Chancellor Timothy P. White directed the nation’s largest public university system to revamp its approach to remedial education and assess new freshmen for college readiness and course placement by using high school grades, ACT and SAT scores, previous classroom performance and other measures that administrators say provide a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of students’ knowledge.

Cal State will no longer make those students who may need extra help take the standardized entry-level mathematics (ELM) exam and the English placement test (EPT).

LA Times.

Monday, August 14, 2017

NY State backs off from Common Core

NY State is backing away from implementing the Common Core Learning Standards. Of course, the direction they're going is to make standards easier. Keep in mind: The great majority of NY state high school graduates cannot pass 6th-grade reading or arithmetic tests; and within the last decade, NY had the 3rd-lowest GED math success rates, above only Mississippi and Washington, DC.

As reported by NYSUT on the newly-named "Next Generation Learning Standards":
Committees went standard-by-standard, grade-by-grade. Some learning standards were thrown out; others were merged; some standards were moved to different grade levels... an Early Learning Standards Task Force with 30 educators and parents issued a set of pre-K–2 recommendations, such as incorporating "play" as an instructional strategy... To provide more time for students to develop deep levels of understanding of math content, the review committees suggested major grade movements in statistics and probability at the middle level and in algebra at the high school level. Some changes are semantic. For example, the new standard calls for "exploring" a concept without the expectation of mastering the concept at that grade level.


Monday, August 7, 2017

The empty promise of school choice

Charter school outcomes are, on average, worse the public school outcomes. Some people may be surprised by this -- but likely only if they are in the flock of the American free-market ideology. Fredrik deBoer, who researches academic assessment at CUNY, writes on how little sense this makes on his blog The ANOVA:
There are no specific pedagogical mechanisms that are tied to the doctrine of choice. There’s no secret book titled “Actually Good Pedagogy” that only charter schools get to buy. There is no experimental approach to learning long division that is only employed in private schools. Your average child moving from one type of school to another might find that their social world has changed, that their commute is easier, or that they like the cafeteria food better. But there is no consistent differences in how charter school teachers teach, no fundamental difference in approach between public and private. When people ask me why the results from some atypical charter success story fail to scale up in places like Detroit or Chicago or Nashville, I often say “because ‘charter school’ is not a meaningful experimental condition.”... What the designation “charter school” shares broadly is only the ability to fire teachers with impunity, that’s all. And that could only possibly work to improve outcomes, again, in a world where teachers control student outcomes in a straightforward and uncomplicated way. They don’t.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Traditional practice best for struggling 1st-graders

The researchers, led by Paul L. Morgan at Pennsylvania State University, analyzed U.S. Department of Education data from about 14,000 students across the United States who entered kindergarten in 1998. They first looked at how the students performed on math tests in kindergarten. The data included teacher surveys, allowing the researchers to track the methods that the kids’ subsequent first-grade teachers said they used. And finally, they had the students’ first-grade math scores.

The researchers found that the higher the number of struggling students, who scored in the bottom 15 percent in kindergarten, in a first-grade teacher’s classroom, the more likely the teachers were to use manipulatives (hands-on materials), calculators, music and movement (See Table 3 on page 12 in the study). The fewer the struggling students, the more likely that teachers stuck with traditional methods, such as showing the whole class how to solve something one way from the chalkboard and then having students practice the method using worksheets.

Yet, at the end of first grade, the researchers found that struggling students who were given traditional instruction posted significantly higher math score gains than the struggling students who had been taught by the progressive methods. Gains are measured by how much students math scores rose between kindergarten and the end of first grade. (See Table 5 on page 15 in the study.)

“Routine practice is the strongest educational practice that teachers can use in their classroom to promote achievement gains,” Morgan said.

Education By The Numbers

Monday, July 24, 2017

Laptops in class considered harmful

Together, these led to a number of important insights into computer use in the classroom. First, participants spent almost 40 minutes out of every 100-minute class period using the internet for nonacademic purposes, including social media, checking email, shopping, reading the news, chatting, watching videos, and playing games. This nonacademic use was negatively associated with final exam scores, such that students with higher use tended to score lower on the exam. Social media sites were the most-frequently visited sites during class, and importantly these sites, along with online video sites, proved to be the most disruptive with respect to academic outcomes.

Scientific American

Monday, July 17, 2017

Scientific American: Math is now a key weapon against disease

Maths has become a vital weapon in the scientific armoury we have to tackle some of the most pressing questions in medical, biological and ecological science in the 21st century. By describing biological systems mathematically and then using the resulting models, we can gain insights that are impossible to access though experiments and verbal reasoning alone. Mathematical biology is incredibly important if we want to change biology from a descriptive into a predictive science – giving us power, for example, to avert pandemics or to alter the effects of debilitating diseases. 

Scientific American

Monday, June 26, 2017

On Classroom Contracts

There's a long-time trend among some educators to hang their hats on classroom "contracts" a lot of the time. In particular: syllabi and behavior contracts on the first day of class -- that students really are expected to sign and be held to. I've always thought that this is enormously stupid, and my operating assumption is that such educators have never worked in industry or dealt with an actual contract.

Among my problems is that it mis-communicates the condition of being a student in a particular classroom, with a particular instructor. The registration itself compels the student to be held to the standards stipulated by the instructor (hopefully documented in the syllabus), and for the instructor to enforce those standards. Supposedly "signing a contract" doesn't change that in any way, and effectively constitutes fraud on the part of the instructor.

What if a student refuses to sign? Are they then not held to those standards? Are the expelled from the course? Assuming this never happens, is the real lesson then one of training students to mindlessly sign anything put in front of them by an authority figure? *

Here's a quote I ran into today from the website of CIO Magazine, from someone who actually is experienced with these issues in the business setting: 
... the purpose of contracts isn’t to define relationships -- it’s to define what happens when there’s no trust and something goes seriously wrong.

When most educators roll out "contracts" they phrase it in terms of, "a contract is a guarantee that can never be broken", but the truth is they're exactly the opposite. In my game-engineering days, we once worked on a project where work started, progressed, and actually completed while the contract was still being negotiated between our executive and the outside company. That is: the contract was signed after the job was already done. The job itself commenced based on mutual trust and good faith on both sides. The contract was only a foundation for any legal actions that would occur afterward if one party truly screwed the other one over. That's what contracts are really for; evidence in a court case when a dispute does occur. Contracts only matter when they are broken.

* This is an enormously corrosive habit in a civil society. Many times I've fantasized about a reverse lesson where I give a contract on the first day with some clause like "give me your firstborn child", point it out after signing, and then rip them all up in front of students. However, this would rather obviously be too much of a mind-fuck on day one, when the primary challenge is one of building trust at that time.