Michelle Rhee: Liar?

From The Daily Howler:
RHEE FAILS TO SHOW: A reader has tried to help us solve The Case of Rhee and the Wall Street Journal. As you may recall, the problem began with Michelle Rhee’s official biography-the one which helped the inexperienced ex-teacher get hired to run DC’s schools:
OFFICIAL RHEE BIOGRAPHY: Michelle Rhee’s commitment to excellence in education began in 1992, when she joined Teach For America after earning her Bachelor’s degree in Government from Cornell University. Her teaching career started at Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore, MD, where her outstanding success in the classroom earned her acclaim on Good Morning America and The Home Show, as well as in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant. Upon completing her service with Teach For America, she entered Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and graduated with a Master's degree in public policy...
It sounded good—and it helped its author win a very important job. But is the highlighted statement true? Did Michelle Rhee’s “outstanding success in the classroom” really “earn her acclaim” from those major news orgs? Using Nexis, we found reports about Rhee’s former school, Harlem Park Elementary, in the Hartford Courant and on Good Morning America (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/9/07). But in no case could we find any sign that Rhee had been praised in those news orgs’ reports. Yes, there’s always room for doubt. But he claim didn’t seem to compute.

Where Are The Leftovers?

The only bummer about having Thanksgiving at someone else's house is the fact that there are no leftovers!


Pass The Grampus

Now that we're finished eating, this, from Curious Expeditions:
A Whale of a Meal
November 27th, 2008

Happy Turkey Day! This year, M and I are enjoying the holiday in Maine, not far from where the pilgrims would have had the “first Thanksgiving.” While we love the holiday mythos, as many know, the first Thanksgiving wasn’t really the first, it didn’t happen quite where we thought, when we thought, and they didn’t eat what we think they ate… In fact at the 1621 Thanksgiving at Plymouth they may have eaten something that would shock and revolt most Americans today.

Not far from us is a museum celebrating a tradition as fundamental to the fabric of New England as Thanksgiving; The Maine Maritime Museum. The museum has wide range of seafaring items, from figureheads, to model ships, to scrimshaw. Huge Ship WeathervaneIt also highlights a now long disappeared ocean occupation. It hasn’t been a part of Maine life for a century, but once, whaling was a way of life here.

Written in 1620 a year before Thanksgiving, the pilgrims had what they deemed “a first encounter.” It was actually two first encounters.” Walking down a cold Cape Cod beach they had their first encounter with the Cape Cod natives, and their first new country encounter with something they called a “Grampus.”

“As we drew near to the shore we espied some ten or twelve Indians very busy about a black thing.” Upon seeing the pilgrims the natives ran off into the woods leaving the Grampus which they had been cutting “into long rands or pieces, about an ell long and two handfull broad.”

The black thing, or Grampus as the Pilgrims called it, was in fact a beached long-finned pilot whale (globicephala melaena), one which the natives were almost assuredly preparing for eating, possibly preserving it through smoking it. A year later, when the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrims dined together at the 1621 Thanksgiving, the meal consisted of berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, plums, “turkey” (in those days turkey meant all fowl so it may have been duck, goose, pheasant, turkey or all of the above) and fishes such as “cod and bass and other fish.” Other fish? Grampus perhaps?

Did the pilgrims eat whale? Perhaps, perhaps not. The celebration went on for three days, and much of the food was provided by the native king Massasoit and his people, it seems possible they would have enjoyed some smoked pilot whale. Since whale meat tastes rather like beef, (or like the venison it is known they ate at the celebration) the pilgrims might have eaten whale, enjoyed it, and never even known what it was. Today whale meat would most certainly not be welcome on most, if any, Thanksgiving tables, but at the “first” Thanksgiving it may well have been whale, not turkey they were giving thanks for.

For an excellent account of the history of eating whale in America read Nancy Shoemakers excellent article “Whale Meat in American History”, for pictures of the Maine Maritime Museum check our flickr set here. If you are interested in reading more about whaling, you might want to check out an article I recently wrote about Moby Dick, spermaceti, supernova, the history of physics, and the connection that ties them all together, which can be read online at the HTML times.

Happy Thanksgiving from Curious Expeditions!


Reich On Keynes' Return

Robert Reich:
What the hawks don’t get is what John Maynard Keynes understood: when the economy has as much underutilized capacity as we have now, and are likely to have more of in 2009 and 2010 (in all likelihood, over 8 percent of our workforce unemployed, 13 percent underemployed, millions of houses empty, factories idled, and office space unused), government spending that pushes the economy to fuller capacity will of itself shrink future deficits.
The Rebirth of Keynes, and the Debate to Come

The economy has just about come to a standstill – not so much because credit markets are clogged as because there’s not enough demand in the economy to keep it going. Consumer spending has fallen off a cliff. Investment is drying up. And exports are dropping because the recession has now spread around the world.

So are we about to return to Keynesianism? Hopefully. Government is the spender of last resort, which means the new Obama administration should probably be considering a stimulus package in the range of $600 billion, roughly 4 percent of national product -- focused on building and repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, providing help to states to maintain services, and investing in new green technologies in order to wean the nation off oil.

But between now and late January, when the stimulus package will be voted on, we're likely to be treated to a great debate over the wisdom of Keynesianism. Fiscal hawks will claim government is already spending way too much. Even without the stimulus package, next year's budget deficit is likely to be in the range of $1.5 trillion, considering the shrinking economy and what’s being spent bailing out Wall Street. The hawks also worry that post-war baby boomers are only a few years away from retirement, meaning that the costs of Social Security and Medicare will balloon.

What the hawks don’t get is what John Maynard Keynes understood: when the economy has as much underutilized capacity as we have now, and are likely to have more of in 2009 and 2010 (in all likelihood, over 8 percent of our workforce unemployed, 13 percent underemployed, millions of houses empty, factories idled, and office space unused), government spending that pushes the economy to fuller capacity will of itself shrink future deficits.

Conservative supply-siders, meanwhile, will call for income-tax cuts rather than government spending, claiming that people with more money in their pockets will get the economy moving again more readily than can government. They're wrong, too. Income-tax cuts go mainly to upper-income people, and they tend to save rather than spend.

Even if a rebate could be fashioned for the middle class, it wouldn't do much good because, as we saw from the last set of rebate checks, people tend to use extra cash to pay off debts rather than buy goods and services. Besides, individual purchases wouldn't generate nearly as many American jobs as government spending on infrastructure, social services, and green technologies, because so much of we as individuals buy comes from abroad.

So the government has to spend big time. The real challenge will be for government to spend it wisely -- avoiding special-interest pleadings and pork projects such as bridges to nowhere. We’ll need a true capital budget that lays out the nation’s priorities rather than the priorities of powerful Washington lobbies. How exactly to achieve this? That's the debate we should be having between now and January 20 or 21st.

A Thanksgiving Poem

William Burroughs

"To John Dillinger and hope he is still alive.
Thanksgiving Day November 28, 1986"

Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeons, destined
to be shat out through wholesome
American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.*

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen,
feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind the
own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the
memories-- all right let's see
your arms!

You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.

*emphasis mine

TFT's Health

Some of you may know that I have an ongoing health issue that requires CT scans every few months. I had one this morning. To prepare for a CT scan one has to drink 900mL of barium sulfate suspension. That's like 2 Coors Talls!

Anyway, I have to drink them an hour before the scan. Many folks get to the hospital early and drink the stuff there. I, however, choose to get it ahead of time, drink it at home, and arrive just in time for the scan. That's what I did. Oh, and you can't eat for 4 hours before the scan, so you drink the barium on an empty stomach. No problem.

My scan went fine. They put you on the table, hook an IV up so they can deliver the contrast dye, and then they have you hold your breath a few times while they do the 3 or 4 passes in and out of the doughnut (the CT machine is like a doughnut, not a cave; that's an MRI).

The whole thing takes a few minutes, and then you're done. The contrast injection makes you feel warm, and a bit like you are wetting yourself. It's a weird sensation. There is a taste also. Very wierd, but not freaky.

The bad part is when the barium decides it's time to leave your body. I'm at that stage right now. Blogging may be sporadic as a result.

I won't know the results till my oncologist gives me a call. I'm not stressing. I never do. It is what it is, and will be what it will be. So far, since the surgery a couple years ago, I am clean. I intend to stay that way.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful. Gotta go.....

Update: (Gurgle gurgle) The other thing is I am very hungry and am craving a pastrami sky-hi from Art's. But I don't live in LA anymore. Dammit!


My Medical Insurance: Expensive!

As a teacher, I suppose I get good medical coverage. As of October, I am bringing home less per month than last year, and I get a raise each year. My medical coverage doubled. That's right, doubled, in one paycheck. At least gas is cheaper, for now.

Are Bar Miztvahs really necessary? Especially when your dad is an atheist and your mom believes in "baby beings"?

Jesus fucking Christ!

Update: So, I guess I should remind you that you can find ways to help TFT and son in the sidebar--you can shop Amazon via my link, buy TFT stuff at Cafe Press, and click like crazy on those Google ads!

Bailout Perspective

Do you want to understand how much money this bailout is costing, but just can't get your head around the numbers? Try this on for size...
Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

Happy Thanksgiving 2?


So, Got Any Ideas? I Thought Not

The Daily Howler is a must read. Here is a great takedown of those who propose to fix education by firing all the teachers (morons!). It's a bit long, so check it apres expansion....

Update: Part 3 is now included.
Special report: Back-to-school week!

PART 1—EASY TO BE EASY: In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof insightfully prayed that our “War on Brains” might be nearing an end. We’ll have an intelligent president, he said. Perhaps this fact will point the way to the end of this long, foolish war.

In his next column, Kristof turned to the problems of public schools—and he lightly scolded Obama:
KRISTOF (11/12/08): President-elect Barack Obama and his aides are sending signals that education may be on the back burner at the beginning of the new administration. He ranked it fifth among his priorities, and if it is being downplayed, that’s a mistake.
Easy to be hard! For ourselves, we’d say that “fifth” is fairly high on a list of priorities, given the problems Obama will face—and given the fact that very few pols know squat about public schooling. Nonetheless, Kristof continued his scolding, saying high-minded things—things everyone knows—about the great value of learning. Indeed, the scribe made a series of high-minded points which most folk can say in their sleep:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): We can’t meaningfully address poverty or grow the economy as long as urban schools are failing. Mr. Obama talks boldly about starting new high-tech green industries, but where will the workers come from unless students reliably learn science and math?

The United States is the only country in the industrialized world where children are less likely to graduate from high school than their parents were, according to a new study by the Education Trust, an advocacy group based in Washington.

The most effective anti-poverty program we could devise for the long run would have less to do with income redistribution than with ensuring that poor kids get a first-rate education, from preschool on. One recent study found that if American students did as well as those in several Asian countries in math and science, our economy would grow 20 percent faster.
All right, all right! We’ll eat our greens! But as you might be able to guess, our curiosity only rose as Kristof’s light scolding extended through these high-minded opening grafs. Kristof wants Obama to pay more attention to urban schools. But what exactly does he think the new president should do or propose? What does he think Obama could do to improve these struggling schools?

Alas! We had to read to the end of the piece before our question was answered. Like a student killing time when asked a question he couldn’t answer, Kristof began a long discussion—an interesting discussion—about the history of our public schools. There was stuff in there we’d never heard, relayed from a hot new book by two of them perfesser fellers. (“As late as 1957, only 9 percent of British 17-year-olds were enrolled in school.”) But what was Obama supposed to do? What should he do for our urban schools? Kristof was nearing the end of his piece—and he still hadn’t breathed a word.

If scholars want to read ahead, they can see what Kristof proposed. But we were struck by a tired old thought as we perused this familiar piece. Easy to be easy, we sagely mused, when it comes to offering high-minded thoughts about the ills of urban schools. Does Kristof know whereof he speaks? Should Obama act on the gentleman’s say? With an election safely concluded, we’ll ask such questions in upcoming posts in this, our “Back-to-school week.”

Monday—Part 2: What Kristof said—and Fred Hiatt.
And now, Part 2:
Special report: Back-to-school week!

Part 2—Easy to be fatuous: Many scribes find it “easy to be hard” when they talk about public schooling (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/21/08). The rules of the game are fairly simple: They scold those troubling teachers’ unions—and the troubling pols who support them.

Beyond that, many scribes find it easy to churn perfect pap about public schools—to type tired bromides about “reform,” thus avoiding actual thought. The Washington Post took this standard approach in Saturday’s editorial:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (11/22/08): Another [cabinet] selection that will merit scrutiny is Mr. Obama's education secretary: Will the choice reflect his stated commitment to reform? Will it be someone with hands-on experience in education and a proven willingness to experiment? While the new president's attention is understandably focused on the economy, not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's critical to have someone who comes to the education post with those credentials.
When it comes to Obama’s education secretary, the Post favors “reform”—it wants someone who’s “willing to experiment.” Meanwhile, everyone knows what these words mean when mainstream journalists discuss public schools. “Reform” means cracking down on teachers and teacher groups through ideas like merit pay and the ending of tenure. There may be some merit to these ideas—but few others seem to get mentioned.

In case we didn’t know what “reform” means in these parts of the Village, Fred Hiatt wrote a recent Post op-ed piece which made the point fairly clear.

It’s easy to be fatuous, we incomparably thought, after reading his column.

As usual, Hiatt’s piece took the form of a paean to DC schools chief Michelle Rhee. We mean that as a criticism of Hiatt, not of Rhee. Yes, this passage is utterly silly. But it was written by Hiatt:
HIATT (11/10/08): Rhee is hardly anti-teacher. One problem, she says, is that "our good teachers have not been told that they're good." And she is committed to helping teachers "who have the will but are underperforming—that is essentially the biggest challenge for the District for the next couple of years."

But she won't compromise on the notion that every student can learn to read, write and do math; that their ability to do so should be measured; and that if they're not learning, it's not their fault—it's the schools'.
In a way, you can’t blame Hiatt for that sort of talk; it’s the type of chatter that’s routinely churned by “educational experts.” But Hiatt is being fatuous when he says that “every student can learn, write and do math” (whatever so vague an assurance might mean)—and he builds a straw man when he goes on to say that “their ability to do so should be measured.” (Few oppose sensible measurement.) Duh! The question isn’t whether “every student can learn;” the question is how much various students can learn, at what point in their public schooling. The larger question is what sorts of changes in instructional practice might help these students achieve these goals. Meanwhile, the desire to rush to the question of who’s “at fault” merely extends the problem. But Hiatt makes it clear, at the start of his piece, that fault and blame are driving his vision. He opens with an anecdote designed to show that Rhee is high-minded and good—while an unnamed principal is an uncaring villain. He then cranks out this standard text—although, within the Insider Press, churning such text is real easy:
HIATT: Rhee offers the ultimate in no-excuses leadership. She has taken on one of the worst public school systems in the nation and has pledged to turn it into one of the best within a decade. The usual excuses made for such schools—that they cannot possibly do better because their students are poor, or come from broken families, or haven't been read to, or are surrounded by crime—Rhee does not accept. She has seen such students learn, Rhee explains, in her own classroom in Baltimore in the early 1990s, and in many other schools since.
Just as he drives a framework of “fault” and blame, Hiatt builds a framework in which people are looking for “excuses.” (It can’t be that they’re offering “explanations,” or describing real problems and obstacles.) Of course, it’s easy for pundits to say that we shouldn’t “accept...the usual excuses” about the progress of deserving students who may enter kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. But those students’ achievements won’t increase just because Hiatt enjoys talking tough—because he churns familiar bromides as a replacement for thought. Once again, though, we have to cut Hiatt some slack, since he can quote “educational experts” saying the same goldarn things:
HIATT: Kati Haycock, president of the nonprofit Education Trust, says Obama is "absolutely unequivocal on, 'Don't tell me black kids can't learn.' It comes directly from his gut." So maybe he will sympathize with Rhee's conclusion that patience, tact and compromise are inappropriate when half your kids or more never graduate from high school.
We’re sure that Haycock is a fine person; Jonathan Kozol writes good things about her, and that’s good enough for us. But everyone knows that “black kids can learn” (whatever that vague assurance might mean); reciting this bromide makes “experts” seem noble, but it doesn’t make anyone smarter. The actual questions here are quite different: How much can this particular child learn, during this particular week, and what would be the best particular way to help him or her do that? Unfortunately, educational experts often like to cheerlead—and the Hiatts start acting like cheerleaders too. Soon, we find ourselves snarling at teachers, who surely must be “at fault” in these students’ “failure to learn.” (By which we presumably mean failure to learn enough.)

In the process, we may fail to notice how few real suggestions come from observers like Hiatt—other than the tired old bromides about things like merit pay.

In large measure, Hiatt’s piece concerns the wonders of merit pay—an idea which sometimes seem to have magical power in the world of the Village pundit. Who knows? Some form of merit pay may be a good thing—though we doubt that Hiatt has any idea, one way or the other. To our ear, his piece was the usual insider piece—a piece pundits churn again and again. He found it easy to be hard—when it came to those lazy teachers. When it came to the search for real ideas, he found it easy to be rather fatuous.

Meanwhile, his column turned—as these columns often do—on a certain miraculous tale. It’s easy to believe in miracles inside this mainstream celebrity press corps. When Post pundits talk about low-income schools, miracles tend to play a key role in their ruminations.

Tomorrow—Part 3: Easy to believe.
And Part 3:

Special report: Back-to-school week!

Part 3—Easy to believe: It’s easy to believe—in miracles—when pundits discuss public schools. Example: In late October, Jay Mathews gushed over the “educational insurgency” of Michelle Rhee, the still-new chancellor of DC’s public schools. Indeed, he gushed over a entire “new generation of administrators, including Rhee,” who have “s[een] how teacher focus and energy could improve students' lives, and at the same time [have] learned how rare those traits were in low-income neighborhood schools.”

In Mathews’ piece, this is an heroic generation. To give you a fuller idea, here is Jay’s fuller description of this new generation of educators. This passage follows Jay’s account of a disappointing experience from Rhee’s brief (three-year) teaching career. There are heroes and villains in this portrait. It ain’t hard to see who they are:

MATHEWS (10/27/08): In an interview this month, Rhee said that jarring moment of hope followed by disappointment made her want to change the system. Many educators she knows who are also likely to run school systems someday tell similar stories. They saw how teacher focus and energy could improve students' lives, and at the same time they learned how rare those traits were in low-income neighborhood schools.

Such experiences create habits of mind and leadership qualities that inspire the most effective principals and teachers, but disturb many community leaders, politicians and educators who are used to standard operating procedures. This new generation of administrators, including Rhee, shares the prevailing cynicism about how school systems operate. But instead of going off to be lawyers, doctors or business executives as their parents wanted them to, they stay in education and violate or finesse normal processes.

You could call them the young entrepreneurs, the reformers, or maybe a name with appeal to friends and foes: the Brat Pack. They create excitement and enjoy a form of celebrity, but to many they are egregious annoyances. Rhee's new fame drew 700 applications last year from people who wanted to be principals in D.C. schools, hitherto not a popular spot for ambitious administrators. Her anti-bureaucratic instincts led her to dust off unused procedures for getting rid of unproductive teachers when the Washington Teachers' Union refused to accept such changes. Because she has seen improvisation work, she got outside foundation and university support for experiments—such as money for good grades—that others considered risky.

Of course, it’s mainly good to “get rid of unproductive teachers,” and “improvisations” like money-for-grades may have positive effects in some low-income schools—though no one who actually cares about outcomes will simply assume such a thing. For ourselves, we’re glad that Rhee has an aggressive leadership style—although we aren’t at all sure that her basic vision about low-income schooling is sound. But that’s a truly gushing portrait of Rhee and her insurgent “Brat Pack.” Its author seems remarkably sure of where the heroes are found.

That said, what makes Mathews feel so sure that the “Brat Pack” are the heroes? That their vision and their resultant approach are fundamentally sound? Here’s your answer: Rhee “has seen improvisation work,” Jay says. On that rock he builds his church. But is that foundation sound?

This brings us back to the foundational myth of the cult of Chancellor Rhee. As he starts his piece, Mathews recalls the disappointing moment which—as the story is endlessly told—fired Rhee’s unquenchable desire to “change the system.” Many pundits find it easy to believe in Rhee’s vision—and their apparent sense of certainty almost always turns on this tale. For ourselves, we were surprised to see Jay act as if this tale is established history. We were also surprised by the outright absurdity of some of what he describes:

MATHEWS: To understand D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the educational insurgency she is part of, you have to know what happened when she taught at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary School in the early 1990s.

The Teach for America program threw well-educated young people such as Rhee—bachelor's degree from Cornell, master's from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government—into classrooms full of impoverished children after only a summer of training. “It was a zoo, every day," she recalled. Thirty-six children, all poor, suffered under a novice who had no idea what to do.

But within months, for Rhee and other influential educators in her age group, the situation changed. She vowed not "to let 8-year-olds run me out of town." She discovered learning improved when everyone sat in a big U-pattern with her in the middle and she made quick marks on the blackboard for good and bad behavior without ever stopping the lesson. She spent an entire summer making lesson plans and teaching materials, with the help of indulgent aunts visiting from Korea. She found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math. She set written goals for each child and enlisted parents in her plans.

Students became calm and engaged. Test scores soared. She kept one group with her for second and third grade. She was convinced that her students, despite their problems, "were the most talented kids ever." Then the real world intruded, a key moment for the entrepreneurial educators Rhee counts as friends. "All of those kids would go on to other teachers and totally lose everything because those teachers were" lousy. (Rhee used an earthier adjective.)

Jesus rose from the dead in three days—and under Rhee, “test scores soared.” This tale—of Rhee’s miracle cure—is told wherever her cult is sold. Plainly, Jay believes it’s true. At THE HOWLER, we pretty much don’t. (For the record: Rhee got her Harvard master’s degree after her three years of teaching.)

To understand Rhee, “you have to know what happened when she taught at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary,” Jay says. But what did happen in those three years; did miracles really occur? In our view, no one who actually cares about low-income schools will leap to such conclusions—or assume that the Brat Pack is on the right path because they have (allegedly) seen similar outcomes. As we’ve explained in the past, it isn’t clear—it isn’t clear at all—that Rhee produced the miracle cure she has boasted about all through her career (links below). And good God! Who but an adept could believe that miracles occur in the way Jay describes? Did no one but Rhee ever think of having her kids “sit in a big U-pattern with her in the middle?” Did no one else “ma[ke] quick marks on the blackboard for good and bad behavior without ever stopping the lesson?” Even assuming, as we do, that Rhee was a highly diligent teacher, the story Jay tells is the stuff of legend. This type of story is perfectly fine—in books written for eight-year-old kids. But it’s dangerous when we find it so easy to believe that we start revamping our low-income schools on the basis of such absurd tales.

In an e-mail, we asked Jay why he feels so sure that Rhee produced the astounding score gains she has boasted about through the years. In particular, we posed these questions about these alleged test scores—scores which couldn’t be documented or confirmed by the Baltimore schools at the time of her ascension to chancellor:


  1. Are you troubled by the fact that the scores were never produced?
  2. Did the Post ever ask the Baltimore schools to produce the scores?

Jay’s answers were helpful, though they leave some matters hanging. Here’s what he told us:


  1. Nope, because I have researched test scores at that period in other parts of the country, and nobody has them, particularly on a per teacher basis. This was way before the NCLB era. Her story is very close to what I have heard from other Teach for America teachers of that era whose work has since proved, in the NCLB era. that their scores were probably what they said they were.
  2. We did, and discovered what I said above. Rhee herself said she never saw any scores in writing. It was all informal chit-chat stuff, with the central office people the only ones who had lists, it seems.

Do the data from Rhee’s tenure still exist? We have no idea. At the time of Rhee’s ascension, the Washington Times seems to have pursued this matter a bit harder than the Post; in a paraphrased passage, reporter Gary Emerling said that Baltimore’s current testing director “said retrieving data from a decade ago is hard because his office changed its information storage systems for the year 2000" (our emphasis). Is retrieving these test scores hard—or impossible? We have no idea. (Emerling included some hard data about third-grade achievement at Harlem Park as a whole—data which made Rhee’s claims sound a bit improbable. An aggressive journalist could surely pursue this type of analysis harder.) Meanwhile, Rhee has long made detailed claims about her students’ success. As the Post reported, her official resume had long asserted this: "Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.” At best, it’s extremely irresponsible to make such detailed claims on the basis of “informal chit-chat.”

(For what it’s worth, it seems unlikely that “central office people” would have been “the only ones” who had the detailed, student-by-student data. Beyond that, we find it hard to believe that Rhee wouldn’t have wanted to know how her individual students tested, even after she’d left the school system.)

Jay is inclined to believe such claims, based on judgments he has made about other Teach for America teachers. Our inclination is vastly different, for reasons we’ve long described. But Jay is not the only scribe who’s inclined to accept Rhee’s claims on their face. When Fred Hiatt penned the recent Post piece in which he fawned about Rhee’s vision (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/24/08), he too seemed to be accepting Rhee’s claims at face value:

HIATT (11/10/08): Rhee offers the ultimate in no-excuses leadership. She has taken on one of the worst public school systems in the nation and has pledged to turn it into one of the best within a decade. The usual excuses made for such schools—that they cannot possibly do better because their students are poor, or come from broken families, or haven't been read to, or are surrounded by crime—Rhee does not accept. She has seen such students learn, Rhee explains, in her own classroom in Baltimore in the early 1990s, and in many other schools since.

Pundits seem to find it easy to believe these pleasing assertions. Jay cited Teach for America teachers, but as best we can tell, Teach for America has not been able to demonstrate outstanding systematic success. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/14/08.) In our view, people who actually care about outcomes will be much more hard-headed about such claims. You see, it actually matters if these tales are true, because Rhee’s whole vision is built on notions derived from these uplifting stories. In Rhee’s world, teachers can produce miracle cures—if they just get off their keisters start working harder. (If they’d only make students sit in a U, they too could see those “test scores soar.”) Her insurgency seems to be based on the idea that teachers are simply refusing to teach. If we threaten them, fire them, scare them and bribe them, they’ll finally get off their lumps off lard and all will be well with the world.

We’re sorry—we just don’t believe that. We think that vision is vastly skewed—and it seems to be Rhee’s master vision.

Can teachers produce those miracle cures? Pundits love to believe such things; they’ve promoted such notions for decades. On that point, we also asked Jay why he included that frankly silly passage about having the students all sit in a U while making those marks on the blackboard. “My fault for not making it clear that that was just a couple of the things she did,” he replied. “The obsessive lesson planning and the individual student goal keeping were likely much more important to the progress she made, also the frequent contact with parents and the looping—sticking with the same kids for two grades.” But there too, many teachers (including us) have stuck with the same kids for two grades. This practice does not produce miracle cures unless the teacher’s a miracle worker.

It’s always possible that Rhee’s students achieved the gains she has claimed, of course—but we think it’s extremely unlikely. And let’s be real: Even if some teacher can produce such cures, that doesn’t mean anyone else can. Everybody can’t be Babe Ruth. You can’t assume that all your outfielders could hit 60 home runs if they’d just try a bit harder.

We don’t know Jay, but we share the old school system tie. (In 1965, we graduated from Aragon High in San Mateo, California. Through absolutely no fault of his own, Jay had to go to Hillsdale.) He’s worked on public school issues for many years; we’re frankly biased in his favor. But for decades, journalists have found it easy to believe miracle claims about success in low-income schools. In the case of Rhee, a whole insurgency seems to be built on belief in such claims. For that reason, a more typical brand of journalistic skepticism would very much seem to be called for.

“To understand [Rhee] and the educational insurgency she is part of, you have to know what happened when she taught at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary School in the early 1990s,” Jay wrote. Strictly speaking, that isn’t true—and it seems that we can’t really know what happened.. But as Jay suggests, her vision is built on faith in the notion that remarkable cures are there for the taking. If we care about low-income schools, we won’t rush to believe such ideas.

Next—Part 4: From Nossiter back to Kristof.

Visit our incomparable archives: We discussed Rhee’s claims in some detail when she was named to the chancellor post. For one example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/07. If you search our archives on the word “Rhee,” you’ll find many more examples.

Go Shopping! It's Our Only Hope!

Happy Thanksgiving?


Citibank Gets Money--Lots Of Money

Secretary Reich informs us that we are all going broke, unless you happen to be one of the assholes that broke us!
Citigroup Scores

If you had any doubt at all about the primacy of Wall Street over Main Street; the utter lack of transparency behind the biggest government giveaway in history to financial executives, and their shareholders, directors, and creditors; and the intimate connections the lie between Administrations -- both Republican and Democratic -- and the heavyweights on Wall Street, your doubts should be laid to rest. Today it was decided the government will guarantee more than $300 billion of troubled mortgages and other assets of Citigroup under a federal plan to stabilize the lender after its stock fell 60 percent last week. The company will also will get a $20 billion cash infusion from the Treasury Department, adding to the $25 billion the bank received last month under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

This is not a particularly good deal for American taxpayers, but it is a marvelous deal for Citi. In return for all the cash and guarantees they are giving away, taxpayers will get only $27 billion of preferred shares paying an 8 percent dividend. No other strings are attached. The senior executives of Citi, including those who have served at the highest levels in the US government, have done their jobs exceedingly well. The American public, including the media, have not the slightest clue what just happened.

Meanwhile, more than a million workers in the automobile industry, along with six million mortgagees, and a millions of Americans who depend on small businesses and retailers for paychecks, are getting nothing at all.

Peter Schiff: Soothsayer

Thanks to Sully I now know who to believe when the money-men/women start bloviating. His name is Peter Schiff, and he was telling us about the meltdown 2 fucking years ago, and the Cavutos of the world were laughing at him. A video from back then:

Now who's laughing? And Schiff says we haven't seen the worst of it yet. A video from now:

Religious Obfuscation: Inherent In Religion

It's stuff like this that makes me wonder if religious people aren't really small children arguing about who gets to be Batman, and who gets to be Spiderman. The truth is, you don't get to be either, because you're not.
“He’s trying to get the Catholic-Islamic dialogue out of the clouds of theory and down to brass tacks: how can we know the truth about how we ought to live together justly, despite basic creedal differences?” said George Weigel, a Catholic scholar and biographer of Pope John Paul II.
How can they know the truth about how to live together justly? Does that even make sense? The one religious rule that is not religious, but human, is that golden one. We should treat each other justly. That's the truth.
In quotations from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”[emphasis mine]
Parentheses; a good place for one's faith; there, or in the rubbish heap along with Zeus, the flat earth, and The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Religion Poisons Everything!


Everyday Math: WTF?

Here is a nice video that shows you exactly how Everyday Math teaches a couple concepts:

And a counterpoint:

Part 1

Part 2

Everyday Math: Still Sucking In November 08

I know I am just a lowly teacher, and I don't know much. And, I know I have had some pretty bad things to say (like here, here, here, here, here, and here) about Everyday Math. Well, it's not just me, OK?! So many mathematicians are against this kind of program that dilutes the stringent rules and terminology of mathematics. I have talked about precision elsewhere on this blog (somewhere?), and in countless meetings. Too many teachers and administrators either discount precision or are unable to be precise when they teach. Here is a snippet from the article you will go read after expansion!
Disagreements over math curricula are often portrayed as “basic skills versus conceptual understanding.” Scientists and mathematicians, including many who signed the open letter to Secretary Riley, are described as advocates of basic skills, while professional educators are counted as proponents of conceptual understanding. Ironically, such a portrayal ignores the deep conceptual understanding of mathematics held by so many mathematicians. But more important, the notion that conceptual understanding in mathematics can be separated from precision and fluency in the execution of basic skills is just plain wrong.
Read it (It's lllooonnnnggg)...
Why the U.S. Department of Education’s Recommended Math Programs Don’t Add Up

Posted on October 31, 2008 by the editor

What constitutes a good K-12 mathematics program? Opinions differ. In October 1999, the U.S. Department of Education released a report designating 10 math programs as “exemplary” or “promising.” The following month, I sent an open letter to Education Secretary Richard W. Riley urging him to withdraw the department’s recommendations. The letter was coauthored by Richard Askey of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, R. James Milgram of Stanford University, and Hung-Hsi Wu of the University of California at Berkeley, along with more than 200 other cosigners.

With financial backing from the Packard Humanities Institute, we published the letter as a full-page ad in the Washington Post on Nov. 18, 1999, with as many of the endorsers’ names and affiliations as would fit on the page. Among them are many of the nation’s most accomplished scientists and mathematicians. Department heads at more than a dozen universities–including Caltech, Stanford, and Yale–along with two former presidents of the Mathematical Association of America also added their names in support. With new endorsements since publication, there are now seven Nobel laureates and winners of the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics. The open letter was covered by several newspapers and journals, including American School Board Journal (February, page 16).

Although a clear majority of cosigners are mathematicians and scientists, it is sometimes overlooked that experienced education administrators at the state and national level, as well as educational psychologists and education researchers, also endorsed the letter. (A complete list is posted at http://www.mathematicallycorrect.com.)

University professors and public education leaders are not the only ones who have reservations about these programs. Thousands of parents and teachers across the nation seek alternatives to them, often in opposition to local school boards and superintendents. Mathematically Correct, an influential Internet-based parents’ organization, came into existence several years ago because the children of the organization’s founders had no alternative to the now “exemplary” program, College Preparatory Mathematics, or CPM. In Plano, Texas, 600 parents are suing the school district because of its exclusive use of the Connected Mathematics Project, or CMP, another “exemplary” program. I have received hundreds of requests for help by parents and teachers because of these and other programs now promoted by the Education Department (ED). In fact, it was such pleas for help that motivated me and my three coauthors to write the open letter.

Common problems

The mathematics programs criticized by the open letter have common features. For example, they tend to overemphasize data analysis and statistics, which typically appear year after year, with redundant presentations. The far more important areas of arithmetic and algebra are radically de-emphasized. Many of the so-called higher-order thinking projects are just aimless activities, and genuine illumination of important mathematical ideas is rare. There is a near obsession with calculators, and basic skills are given short shrift and sometimes even disparaged. Overall, these curricula are watered-down math programs. The same educational philosophy that gave rise to the whole-language approach to reading is part of ED’s agenda for mathematics. Systematic development of skills and concepts is replaced by an unstructured “holism.” In fact, during the mid-’90s, supporters of programs like these referred to their approach as “whole math.”

Disagreements over math curricula are often portrayed as “basic skills versus conceptual understanding.” Scientists and mathematicians, including many who signed the open letter to Secretary Riley, are described as advocates of basic skills, while professional educators are counted as proponents of conceptual understanding. Ironically, such a portrayal ignores the deep conceptual understanding of mathematics held by so many mathematicians. But more important, the notion that conceptual understanding in mathematics can be separated from precision and fluency in the execution of basic skills is just plain wrong.

In other domains of human activity, such as athletics or music, the dependence of high levels of performance on requisite skills goes unchallenged. A novice cannot hope to achieve mastery in the martial arts without first learning basic katas or exercises in movement. A violinist who has not mastered elementary bowing techniques and vibrato has no hope of evoking the emotions of an audience through sonorous tones and elegant phrasing. Arguably the most hierarchical of human endeavors, mathematics also depends on sequential mastery of basic skills.

The standard algorithms

The standard algorithms for arithmetic (that is, the standard procedures for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of numbers) are missing or abridged in ED’s recommended elementary school curricula. These omissions are inconsistent with the mainstream views of mathematicians.

In our open letter to Secretary Riley, we included an excerpt from a committee report published in the February 1998 Notices of the American Mathematical Society. The committee was appointed by the American Mathematical Society to advise the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Part of its report discusses the standard algorithms of arithmetic. “We would like to emphasize that the standard algorithms of arithmetic are more than just ‘ways to get the answer’–that is, they have theoretical as well as practical significance,” the report states. “For one thing, all the algorithms of arithmetic are preparatory for algebra, since there are (again, not by accident, but by virtue of the construction of the decimal system) strong analogies between arithmetic of ordinary numbers and arithmetic of polynomials.”

This statement deserves elaboration. How could the standard algorithms of arithmetic be related to algebra? For concreteness, consider the meaning in terms of place value of 572:

572 = 5 (102) + 7(10) + 2

Now compare the right side of this equation to the polynomial,

5x2 + 7x + 2.

The two are identical when x = 10. This connection between whole numbers and polynomials is general and extends to arithmetic operations. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of polynomials is fundamentally the same as for whole numbers. In arithmetic, extra steps such as “regrouping” are needed since x = 10 allows for simplifications. The standard algorithms incorporate both the polynomial operations and the extra steps to account for the specific value, x = 10. Facility with the standard operations of arithmetic, together with an understanding of why these algorithms work, is important preparation for algebra.

The standard long division algorithm is particularly shortchanged by the “promising” curricula. It is preparatory for division of polynomials and, at the college level, division of “power series,” a useful technique in calculus and differential equations. The standard long division algorithm is also needed for a middle school topic. It is fundamental to an understanding of the difference between rational and irrational numbers, an indisputable example of conceptual understanding. It is essential to understand that rational numbers (that is, ratios of whole numbers like 3/4) and their negatives have decimal representations that exhibit recurring patterns. For example: 1/3 = .333…, where the ellipses indicate that the numeral 3 repeats forever. Likewise, 1/2 = .500… and 611/4950 = .12343434….

In the last equation, the digits 34 are repeated without end, and the repeating block in the decimal for 1/2 consists only of the digit for zero. It is a general fact that all rational numbers have repeating blocks of numerals in their decimal representations, and this can be understood and deduced by students who have mastered the standard long division algorithm. However, this important result does not follow easily from other “nonstandard” division algorithms featured by some of ED’s model curricula.

A different but still elementary argument is required to show the converse–that any decimal with a repeating block is equal to a fraction. Once this is understood, students are prepared to understand the meaning of the term “irrational number.” Irrational numbers are the numbers represented by infinite decimals without repeating blocks. In California, seventh-grade students are expected to understand this.

It is worth emphasizing that calculators are utterly useless in this context, not only in establishing the general principles, but even in logically verifying the equations. This is partly because calculator screens cannot display infinite decimals, but more important, calculators cannot reason. The “exemplary” middle school curriculum CMP nevertheless ignores the conceptual issues, bypassing the long division algorithm and substituting calculators and faulty inductive reasoning instead.

Steven Leinwand of the Connecticut Department of Education was a member of the expert panel that made final decisions on ED’s “exemplary” and “promising” math curricula. He was also a member of the advisory boards for two programs found to be “exemplary” by the panel: CMP and the Interactive Mathematics Program. In a Feb. 9, 1994, article in Education Week, he wrote: “It’s time to recognize that, for many students, real mathematical power, on the one hand, and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper computational algorithms, on the other, are mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous.”

Mr. Leinwand’s influential opinions are diametrically opposed to the mainstream views of practicing scientists and mathematicians, as well as the general public, but they have found fertile soil in the government’s “promising” and “exemplary” curricula.


According to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, the use of calculators in U.S. fourth-grade mathematics classes is about twice the international average. Teachers of 39 percent of U.S. students report that students use calculators at least once or twice a week. In six of the seven top-scoring nations, on the other hand, teachers of 85 percent or more of the students report that students never use calculators in class.

Even at the eighth-grade level, the majority of students from three of the top five scoring nations in the TIMSS study (Belgium, Korea, and Japan) never or rarely use calculators in math classes. In Singapore, which is also among the top five scoring countries, students do not use calculators until the seventh grade. Among the lower achieving nations, however, the majority of students from 10 of the 11 nations with scores below the international average–including the United States–use calculators almost every day or several times a week.

Of course, this negative correlation of calculator usage with achievement in mathematics does not imply a causal relationship. There are many variables that contribute to achievement in mathematics. On the other hand, it is foolhardy to ignore the problems caused by calculators in schools. In a Sept. 17, 1999, Los Angeles Times editorial titled “L.A.’s Math Program Just Doesn’t Add Up,” Milgram and I recommended that calculators not be used at all in grades K-5 and only sparingly in higher grades. Certainly there are isolated, beneficial uses for calculators, such as calculating compound interest, a seventh-grade topic in California. Science classes benefit from the use of calculators because it is necessary to deal with whatever numbers nature gives us, but conceptual understanding in mathematics is often best facilitated through the use of simple numbers. Moreover, fraction arithmetic, an important prerequisite for algebra, is easily undermined by the use of calculators.

Specific shortcomings

A number of the programs on ED’s list have specific shortcomings–many involving use of calculators. For example, a “promising” curriculum called Everyday Mathematics says calculators are “an integral part of Kindergarten Everyday Mathematics” and urges the use of calculators to teach kindergarten students how to count. There are no textbooks in this K-6 curriculum, and even if the program were otherwise sound, this is a serious shortcoming. The standard algorithm for multiplying two numbers has no more status or prominence than an Ancient Egyptian algorithm presented in one of the teacher’s manuals. Students are never required to use the standard long division algorithm in this curriculum, or even the standard algorithm for multiplication.

Calculator use is also ubiquitous in the “exemplary” middle school program CMP. A unit devoted to discovering algorithms to add, subtract, and multiply fractions (”Bits and Pieces II”) gives the inappropriate instruction, “Use your calculator whenever you need it.” These topics are poorly developed, and division of fractions is not covered at all. A quiz for seventh-grade CMP students asks them to find the “slope” and “y-intercept” of the equation 10 = x - 2.5, and the teacher’s manual explains that this equation is a special case of the linear equation y = x - 2.5, when y = 10, and concludes that the slope is therefore 1 and the y-intercept is -2.5. This is not only false, but is so mathematically unsound as to undermine the authority of classroom teachers who know better.

College Preparatory Math (CPM), a high school program, also requires students to use calculators almost daily. The principal technique in this series is the so-called guess-and-check method, which encourages repeated guessing of answers over the systematic development of standard mathematical techniques. Because of the availability of calculators that can solve equations, the introduction to the series explains that CPM puts low emphasis on symbol manipulation and that CPM differs from traditional mathematics courses both in the mathematics that is taught and how it is taught. In one section, students watch a candle burn down for an hour while measuring its length versus the time and then plotting the results. In a related activity, students spend a whole class period on the athletic field making human coordinate graphs. These activities are typical of the time sacrificed to simple ideas that can be understood more efficiently through direct explanation. But in CPM, direct instruction is systematically discouraged in favor of group work. Teachers are told that as “rules of thumb,” they should “never carry or grab a writing implement” and they should “usually respond with a question.” Algebra tiles are used frequently, and the important distributive property is poorly presented and underemphasized.

Another program, Number Power–a “promising” curriculum for grades K-6–was submitted to the California State Board of Education for adoption in California. Two Stanford University mathematics professors serving on the state’s Content Review Panel wrote a report on the program that is now a public document. Number Power, they wrote, “is meant as a partial program to supplement a regular basic program. There is a strong emphasis on group projects–almost the entire program. Heavy use of calculators. Even as a supplementary program, it provides such insufficient coverage of the [California] Standards that it is unacceptable. This holds for all grade levels and all strands, including Number Sense, which is the only strand that is even partially covered.”

The report goes on to note, “It is explicitly stated that the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, and multiplication are not taught.” Like CMP and Everyday Math, Number Power was rejected for adoption by the state of California.

Interactive Mathematics Program, or IMP, an “exemplary” high school curriculum, has such a weak treatment of algebra that the quadratic formula, normally an eighth- or ninth-grade topic, is postponed until the 12th grade. Even though probability and statistics receive greater emphasis in this program, the development of these topics is poor. “Expected value,” a concept of fundamental importance in probability and statistics, is never even correctly defined. The Teacher’s Guide for “The Game of Pig,” where expected value is treated, informs teachers that “expected value is one of the unit’s primary concepts,” yet teachers are instructed to tell their students that “the concept of expected value is nothing new … [but] the use of such complex terminology makes it easier to state complex ideas.” (For a correlation of lowered SAT scores with the use of IMP, see Milgram’s paper at ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram.)

Core-Plus Mathematics Project is another “exemplary” high school program that radically de-emphasizes algebra, with unfortunate results. Even Hyman Bass–a well-known supporter of NCTM-aligned programs and a harsh critic of the open letter to Secretary Riley–has conceded the program has problems. “I have some reservations about Core Plus, for what I consider too shallow a coverage of traditional algebra, and a focus on highly contextualized work that goes beyond my personal inclinations,” he wrote in a nationally circulated e-mail message. “These are only my personal views, and I do not know about its success with students.”

Milgram analyzed the program’s effect on students in a top-performing high school in “Outcomes Analysis for Core Plus Students at Andover High School: One Year Later,” based on a statistical study by G. Bachelis of Wayne State University. According to Milgram, “…there was no measure represented in the survey, such as ACT scores, SAT Math scores, grades in college math courses, level of college math courses attempted, where the Andover Core Plus students even met, let alone surpassed the comparison group [which used a more traditional program].”

And then there is MathLand, a K-6 curriculum that ED calls “promising” but that is perhaps the most heavily criticized elementary school program in the nation. Like Everyday Math, it has no textbooks for students in any of the grades. The teacher’s manual urges teachers not to teach the standard algorithms of arithmetic for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Rather, students are expected to invent their own algorithms. Numerous and detailed criticisms, including data on lowered test scores, appear at http://www.mathematicallycorrect.com.

How could they be so wrong?

Perhaps Galileo wondered similarly how the church of Pope Urban VIII could be so wrong. The U.S. Department of Education is not alone in endorsing watered-down, and even defective, math programs. The NCTM has also formally endorsed each of the U.S. Department of Education’s model programs (http://www.nctm.org/rileystatement.htm), and the National Science Foundation (Education and Human Resources Division) funded several of them. How could such powerful organizations be wrong?

These organizations represent surprisingly narrow interests, and there is a revolving door between them. Expert panel member Steven Leinwand, whose personal connections with “exemplary” curricula have already been noted, is also a member of the NCTM board of directors. Luther Williams, who as assistant director of the NSF approved the funding of several of the recommended curricula, also served on the expert panel that evaluated these same curricula. Jack Price, a member of the expert panel is a former president of NCTM, and Glenda Lappan, the association’s current president, is a coauthor of the “exemplary” program CMP.

Aside from institutional interconnections, there is a unifying ideology behind “whole math.” It is advertised as math for all students, as opposed to only white males. But the word all is a code for minority students and women (though presumably not Asians). In 1996, while he was president of NCTM, Jack Price articulated this view in direct terms on a radio show in San Diego: “What we have now is nostalgia math. It is the mathematics that we have always had, that is good for the most part for the relatively high socioeconomic anglo male, and that we have a great deal of research that has been done showing that women, for example, and minority groups do not learn the same way. They have the capability, certainly, of learning, but they don’t. The teaching strategies that you use with them are different from those that we have been able to use in the past when … we weren’t expected to graduate a lot of people, and most of those who did graduate and go on to college were the anglo males.”

Price went on to say: “All of the research that has been done with gender differences or ethnic differences has been–males for example learn better deductively in a competitive environment, when–the kind of thing that we have done in the past. Where we have found with gender differences, for example, that women have a tendency to learn better in a collaborative effort when they are doing inductive reasoning.” (A transcript of the show is online at (http://mathematicallycorrect.com/roger.htm.)

I reject the notion that skin color or gender determines whether students learn inductively as opposed to deductively and whether they should be taught the standard operations of arithmetic and essential components of algebra. Arithmetic is not only essential for everyday life, it is the foundation for study of higher level mathematics. Secretary Riley–and educators who select mathematics curricula–would do well to heed the advice of the open letter.


Author, David Klein, is a professor of mathematics at California State University at Northridge.
Source: http://mathematicallycorrect.com/usnoadd.htm

Marks of a good mathematics program

It is impossible to specify all of the characteristics of a sound mathematics program in only a few paragraphs, but a few highlights may be identified. The most important criterion is strong mathematical content that conforms to a set of explicit, high, grade-by-grade standards such as the California or Japanese mathematics standards. A strong mathematics program recognizes the hierarchical nature of mathematics and builds coherently from one grade to the next. It is not merely a sequence of interesting but unrelated student projects.

In the earlier grades, arithmetic should be the primary focus. The standard algorithms of arithmetic for integers, decimals, fractions, and percents are of central importance. The curriculum should promote facility in calculation, an understanding of what makes the algorithms work in terms of the base 10 structure of our number system, and an understanding of the associative, commutative, and distributive properties of numbers. These properties can be illustrated by area and volume models. Students need to develop an intuitive understanding for fractions. Manipulatives or pictures can help in the beginning stages, but it is essential that students eventually be able to compute easily using mathematical notation. Word problems should be abundant. A sound program should move students toward abstraction and the eventual use of symbols to represent unknown quantities.

In the upper grades, algebra courses should emphasize powerful symbolic techniques and not exploratory guessing and calculator-based graphical solutions.

There should be a minimum of diversions in textbooks. Children have enough trouble concentrating without distracting pictures and irrelevant stories and projects. A mathematics program should explicitly teach skills and concepts with appropriately designed practice sets. Such programs have the best chance of success with the largest number of students. The high-performing Japanese students spend 80 percent of class time in teacher-directed whole-class instruction. Japanese math books contain clear explanations, examples with practice problems, and summaries of key points. Singapore’s elementary school math books also provide good models. Among U.S. books for elementary school, Sadlier-Oxford’s Progress in Mathematics and the Saxon series through Math 87 (adopted for grade six in California), though not without defects, have many positive features.–D.K.

For more information

Askey, Richard. “Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics.” American Educator, Fall 1999, pp. 6-13; 49.

Ma, Liping. Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.

Milgram, R. James. “A Preliminary Analysis of SAT-I Mathematics Data for IMP Schools in California.” ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram

Milgram, R. James. “Outcomes Analysis for Core Plus Students at Andover High School: One Year Later.” ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram/andover-report.htm

Wu, Hung-Hsi. “Basic Skills Versus Conceptual Understanding: A Bogus Dichotomy in Mathematics Education.” American Educator, Fall 1999, pp. 14-19; 50-52.

"I'm Looking Forward To You Advising Me As Well"

She laughed. Hard. In a really provocative way. Then came his comeback. She shut up then. And now she's SOS. She is advising him. Ha ha ha!

She's mean. He's not. I think it is a good match.

Hi Ho The Carrion Crow, Fol De Rol De Riddle

Now playing: The Grateful Dead - Mountains of the Moon

via FoxyTunes

I can't remember where I found this, but it needed posting. It's a little strange coming from me, but, I'm a little strange.

Elected Officials: Dumber Than You!

Jonathan Turley always has shocking stuff at his blog. This, though not surprising, is rather shocking!
Elected Officials Score Lower on Civics Tests Than Average Citizens (Who Score Lower than Basic Condiments)
November 23, 2008

American elected officials showed a shocking lack of knowledge about government, history, and basic constitutional principles. They scored a failing grade of just 44 percent on a basic test of knowledge of our nation in a quiz by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). Average citizens scored 49 percent. Note: many of these people scored less than a random or blind selection of answers — quite an achievement.

Total Pageviews