Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Educators resist even good ideas from outsiders

In the Washington Post..


Educators resist even good ideas from outsiders

by Jay Matthews

With two massive parental revolts nearing victory in Fairfax County, and mothers and fathers elsewhere in the area plotting similar insurgencies, it is time to disclose a great truth about even the best educators I know: As much as they deny it, they really don't like outsiders messing with the way they do their jobs.
I asked some veteran parent activists who have passed my truth tests many times what they have found most annoying about these brushoffs. John Hoven, an advocate for gifted education in Montgomery County, said he joined a parent-staff committee to reach consensus on vital issues but after a year saw it was just a bureaucratic shuffle. The committee chairman, who worked for the county, encouraged trivial agenda items and insisted on formal presentations that left little time for discussion.
Fairgrade co-founder Megan McLaughlin, a former Georgetown University admissions officer, thought officials would be interested in her view that the county's narrow grading scale and lack of extra grade points for honors classes was hurting Fairfax kids. Instead, she said, her credentials were ignored, an out-of-date study was cited as gospel and a school board member said her complaint was "not a majority concern among parents." Now she has 8,500 parent signatures and a new county report that opens the way for extra grade points, and maybe everything else Fairgrade wants if it keeps pushing. The county says it wants to keep its grading system to fight grade inflation, a losing cause if there ever was one. Only independent national grading systems, like AP, International Baccalaureate, ACT and SAT, keep us honest.
I think I speak for most parents when I say we would appreciate a more willing suspension of disbelief when we pitch a suggestion and an openness to data before school officials make up their minds. Is that going to happen? I doubt it. And if you don't like this column, well, you're just ignorant.
In regard to math, I find the educational administration far more resistant to outside ideas than the teachers (remember I am a teacher, thus the bias). The administration seems to view ideas presented by teachers that run contrary to the current flow of edu-speak as particularly worthy of their opposition.

It seems that ideas presented by math teachers that run contrary to the current flow of nationally pushed math flim-flam are particularly ignored. Despite administrative recitations of accountability and transparency little evidence of either is present in many administrative decisions that influence math decisions. Unfortunately in Seattle there is little mathematical expertise guiding math decision making.


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of any school district in Washington State using the discovering Alg, Geom, Alg, 2 math series? How does this series rate with the Where's the Math group?


Sudhakar said...

Is this the same Jay Mathews who debated Bob Compton on CNBC? Check out the video (the June 13, 2008 segment).


I guess the real problem finally bit him where it hurts. The "tiny slice" of kids in India and China who he claims is getting world class education is the top 30% of the combined student body - about 120 million kids. Which is over twice the size of the total K-12 student body in this country. So, even our best journalists are apparently asleep at the wheel.

I find it funny when I hear explanations coming from the bureaucracy, like "it is not a majority concern among parents." Let's pause a minute now. My guess is that the majority of the parents is not into science and engineering, it is not fully aware of the magnitude of the global competitive threat to their kid's futures, and is more concerned about getting good grades than being taught a challenging curriculum. Isn't that exactly what is being delivered? So what is the problem?

The problem is that leadership is always in the minority. The person who says that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a speeding locomotive coming at us is always in the minority. This probably is one of the downfalls of the system - looking to the majority for guidance more often than not leads to the lowest common denominator. Leadership almost always involves repeating the bitter truth like a broken record.

Sudhakar said...

..... until even the majority "gets it".

dan dempsey said...


I taught from Discovering Algebra when it first came out, teaching two algebra classes for a full year as a pilot situation.


Disc Alg. provides very little of traditional algebra manipulation skills and substitutes manipulations on the TI-83 instead.

This book like SIMMS and so many reform books could be used for supplementary problems of interest but is NOT a curriculum that is going to provide students with the mathematical foundation to successfully learn Calculus and begin technical careers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Anyone else have input on the Discovering series for secondary mathematics?


Anonymous said...

The problems in Discovering Geometry are better than what you find in traditional textbooks. I use his book as a resource when I'm not teaching geometry.

Also, I like the fact kids start out not learning formal proofs. The traditional textbooks and teachers tend toward 'fuzziness' when they teach proofs. There's really no standard and that makes it confusing for kids.

Serra teaches proofs correctly (hence his title inductive approach) I don't know about his algebra book. But I've been to workshops taught by Serra and he is very enjoyable, an excellent instructor.

Sudhakar said...

In response to T^2

My son used Discovering Algebra 2 text (don't remember the publisher). The results were confounded by the instruction method used (heterogeneous group learning), but they were not good. We were forced to teach from the book because we went out of the country during the school year for about a month. The topic was Logarithms. I was thoroughly disappointed with the wordiness and spiraling of topics. It was not a logically organized book, and the wordiness was enough to turn off the most dedicated math fan. After we came back, we got a copy of Glencoe Algebra 2 (California edition), and things got back to normal once again.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a good comment from the article you posted. As always, there is lots of confusion -

'Educators' in this case means 'district officials' as in Superintendent and school board members - teachers and principals are always faced with the dilemma of following what they've been directed to do.

(This is also your point Dan about following the law. But without a precedent, as long as the 'district' is running things in the spirit of the law there hasn't been any wrong committed.

There is no school police. What authority would ever want to take over a failing school?

In my opinion, standards were created to settle a legal question regarding what children should know when they leave high school or any other institution that was in the business of caring for children (like prisons - This case involved a juvenile prisoner who needed special ed services.

A. Andre H. v. Sobol 27
This suit, initiated in May 1984, was brought on behalf of juveniles eligible for special education services at New York City's Spofford Juvenile Detention Center. Plaintiffs' attorneys claimed that Spofford, a detention and holding facility, (1) conducted no screening or child-find activities to identify young people with disabling conditions, (2) held no multidisciplinary team meetings to determine eligibility and plan appropriate education, and (3) made no attempt to obtain records from schools that young people had previously attended.28 As a result of these and other practices, no special education services were provided to detained young people at Spofford. In January 1991, seven years after the initiation of the suit, a settlement was signed by attorneys for the plaintiffs and attorneys for the defendants, New York City Department of Juvenile Justice and the New York City Board of Education. The settlement required Spofford to develop a multidisciplinary team at the detention center and fully implement the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The agreement also required the parties to jointly appoint a monitor to visit the facilities semi-annually for three years and determine the extent of compliance with the agreement. At the conclusion of the monitoring period, Spofford was found in compliance.

Standards refers to a floor, not a ceiling. The law did not guarantee children would learn any better than before. The law left it up to districts to decide how to interpret the law and implement programs to be in compliance.

In Montgomery County the title for this article would be:
"Educators Resist Even Following the Law".

The State of Maryland has education laws, the School Board has policies, but time and time again they are consistently ignored or disregarded. When parents complain about the failure of MCPS to follow the LAW they are ignored. What kind of example is that for children?

The people that are tasked with teaching you to live in our society have no respect for our society laws. And when it is brought to their attention that they are failing to follow the law, the parents that stand up for enforcement of the laws are the problem?

Jay, many of the controversies in MCPS have nothing to do with people's "feelings" and everything to do with federal, state and county mandates for the delivery of educational services, the procurement of school items, the construction of school facilities and use of school land.

Let's take a simple example, your Challenge Index. Parents would like to know what the AP scores really look like in MCPS. So they file Maryland Public Information Act Requests to get the data that we know exists. As citizens and taxpayers, this is our right. But MCPS refuses to disclose the AP data that they are provided by the College Board. Some high schools disclose the data, so we know it exists. The "solution" is for parents to spend tens of thousands of dollars in court costs, and cause taxpayers to foot the MCPS legal bills in protracted litigation. This isn't about telling MCPS how to do their job, this is about getting MCPS to follow the law.

Why should it take wasting taxpayer dollars on litigation to see the law respected by the educators that are teaching the next generation of citizens?