Snuffing out math talent

December 6, 2007

Could I cover one block of math? Family emergency, the teacher had to go, math practice assignment was all duplicated, I didn’t have a class at that time . . .


It was a class for kids generally not on the college-bound track, certainly not on the mathematics-intensive path. In a couple of minutes three kids told me they were there because they failed the state math test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). We got into the exercise and found it featured a whole bunch of algebraic equations that would tax my memory of the rules quite well.

As I was struggling to remember how to divide and multiply exponents in fractional forms, 15 minutes into the class a woman handed in the assignment. More than 30 equations done, each one I spot checked done correctly, all the work shown — even beautifully legible handwriting.

“You have a real facility for math,” I said. “Why are you here and not in the calculus-bound class?”

She said she had failed the TAKS math portion. I told her I found that highly unlikely.

“I can’t do story problems,” she said. “I can’t figure out how they should go.”

So here was a mathematics savant, relegated to remedial math because of a difficulty translating prose into equation.

In the old days, we’d take a kid like that, let her run as far and as fast as possible in what she was good at (higher abstract mathematics concepts), and work with her on the story problem thingy. If she’s stuck where she doesn’t learn new concepts, she probably won’t make “adequate yearly progress,” either. We have taken a kid with great math talent, and turned her into a statistic of failure.

It was a flawed sample, of course. 30 kids, one savant, three others not quite as fast but with roughly the same problem: Math is easy for them, prose is not easy, especially when it has to be translated into equations. 4/30 is 13%. Do we have that many mathematically capable kids who we flunk and put into remedial math — 13% of the total?

One way to make sure no child is left behind is to stop the train completely. If the train does not move, no one gets left behind.

No mail gets delivered, no milk gets delivered, people can’t go to far off places to study, or to sell. But nobody gets “left behind.”

Did I mention that the Texas Education Agency fired their science curriculum person in direct violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution? Is there a correlation there?

New assessment tool for teachers: Blowhard

June 27, 2007

Read about it here; slick as a whistle, if you ask me.

How it’s done right

June 1, 2007

If I need a lift, I go here. It’s how school should be — probably all the way through.

I don’t know the details of how or why this class is set up the way it is, but day after day they do things that other people use as textbook examples of what a good classroom ought to be doing, sometimes. And they do it day, after day, after day.

Carnival of Education, are you paying attention?


I wager right now that these kids will be the top performers on the standardized tests for at least the next five years, in their classrooms and schools. The Living Classroom weblog is a valuable chronicle for how to provide quality education.

Somebody should step up with the money to track how these kids do, especially against their contemporaries. Alas, this is exactly the sort of information that will be lost, due to “lack of funding.” Fortunately, one of the women involved in the classroom made the chronicles, and shared them.

Side note: Looking at the photos, ask yourself, “Does our town offer these types of recreational facilities for use?” Washington has traditionally led the nation in setting aside land for public recreational use — this class has taken full advantage of being in a town that had the foresight to put up public art and public beaches, and other public parks and places. There is a lesson here for city planners, and for mayors and city councils who wonder how they might support their schools, run by other governmental entities.

Dandelion, class activitiy for The Living Classroom

Inherent evils of public education

May 11, 2007

Public schools have serious problems.  Regular readers here should know me as a defender of public education, especially in the Thomas Jefferson/James Madison model of a foundation stone for a free people and essential tool for good government in a democratic republic.

Can you take another view?  Here’s one that should offer serious material for thought:  How the Public School System Crushes Souls.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pick the Brain.

Olla podrida — a Mulligan stew of issues deserving a look

April 15, 2007

Where do Ed Brayton and P. Z. Myers find the time to blog so much?

Here are some things that deserve consideration, that I’ve not had time to consider.

Dallas is only #2 on the national allergy list#1 is Tulsa.   This is a ranking one wishes to lose.

The Texas Senate passed a bill to change the current state-mandated test for high school students. Tests are not a panacea, and the current structure seems to be doing more damage than good, in dropout rates, and especially in learning.  What will take the place of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)?  No one knows, yet.  Much work to do — but there is widespread understanding that TAKS is not doing much of what was hoped.

Incentive pay for teachers:  Despite a cantakerous and troubled roll-out in Houston’s schools, and despite widespread discontent with the execution of incentive pay programs that appear to miss their targets of rewarding good teachers who teach their students will, Texas has identified 1,132 schools in the state that are eligible for the next phase of the $100 million teacher incentive program.   Some administrators think that, no matter how a program misfires, they can’t change it once they’ve started it.  ‘Stay the course, no matter the damage,’ seems to be the battle cry.  (And you wondered where Bush got the idea?)

Saving historic trains:  History and train advocates saved the Texas State Railroad earlier this year; now they want $12 million to upgrade the engines, cars and tracks, to make the thing a more valuable tourist attraction and history classroom.  Texas has spent a decade abusing and underfunding its once-outstanding state park system.  Citizens are fighting back.

Maybe you know more?

Test-driven? Or character-driven?

March 19, 2007

If you have anything to do with education, especially primary and secondary education, or the testing required by modern ideas of what education should be and the “No Child Left Behind” Act, go read this column by Colman McCarthy:

Test-Driven Teaching Isn’t Character-Driven
No Child Left Untested is politicians’ answer to better education. What about better people?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Is There Life After Breakfast?

District goofs, asks teachers to return “incentive” pay

March 10, 2007

That the program was not well thought out, untimely, and poorly understood, almost guaranteed that the Houston Independent School District’s ballyhooed incentive pay plan would get jeers.

But it gets worse. The District programmed the formula incorrectly. It has asked about a hundred teachers to return as much as $2,790, each. Could you make this stuff up?

Motivation? That’s not a game many educational institutions seem to know much about.

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