Algebra: Not 'If' but 'When'

From NCTM President Linda Gojak in the December 3rd 2013 edition of Summing Up: "So, when should students take algebra? Many students and parents interpret taking algebra in the seventh or eighth grade as an indication of a level of superior intelligence—a status symbol. My experience, both as a student and as a teacher, leads me to believe that we do more harm than good by placing students in a formal algebra course before they are ready, and few students are truly ready to understand the important concepts of algebra before eighth grade. Many students should wait until ninth grade." I agree about the "algebra early as a status symbol" part, but I'm a little surprised this article takes for granted Algebra as a stand-alone course in either 8th or 9th grade. If anything, NCTM has nudged us towards more integrated courses, and I think the CCSSM gives us reasons to think about how different algebra content can be spread across multiple years, with some of what we usually call "Algebra 1" in 8th grade and some in 9th grade.

Common-Core Needs Dominate Districts' Curriculum Priorities, Survey Finds

I find it interesting that, without much centralized organization, such a large proportion of districts are adapting to the Common Core State Standards by supplementing their current curriculum with online materials. That's the case for the district I'm working with in my research, and I imagine tight budgets are one of the factors in that strategy.

Effective Instructional Time Use for School Leaders

I don't follow much in the educational leadership space, but there are some interesting results in this article by Grissom, Loeb, and Master in this month's Educational Researcher. Principals in their study spent only 12.7% of their time on instructional activities, with only 0.5% of time spent coaching teachers, 1.8% of time evaluating teachers, and 5.4% spent on classroom walkthroughs. The total amount of instructional time was found to have no correlation with schools' effectiveness or growth as shown on state standardized tests. Furthermore, classroom walkthroughs were shows to have a negative association with achievement and improvement in high schools, particularly when the walkthrough does not serve any professional development function. Spending time on the school's education program, teacher evaluation, and coaching of teachers showed positive associations.


As someone who dabbles in social media research, a tool that quickly formats tweets into APA citations can come in handy.

literacy beat

I don't study literacy, but if I did I'd probably be following this blog. One of the authors, Bridget Dalton, is one of our new literacy faculty at CU-Boulder.

Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching

This site, assembled by the great science ed folks at the University of Washington, has some great information about modeling in the classroom, promoting quality classroom discourse, and inquiry into student thinking. This group is also working on ways of using technology and social media to create "networked improvement communities" of teachers and supporters across institutions.

Who will tell the colleges if we skip synthetic division?

There's an interesting discussion going on at the Mathematics Teaching Community about the usefulness of synthetic division. For the record, I never taught it to my Algebra 2 students, nor am I sure I can do it myself. I'm pretty sure I know three or more other ways to divide polynomials and I'm going to assume that's plenty, especially since it's not exactly something I do everyday.

Math Problems for Problem Based Learning - Google Drive

Sam Shah (@samjshah) created this Google Doc for people to suggest sites with rich tasks. It's a pretty good list and I've used several of these in my searches for tasks to use at the Algebra 1 level.

'I'm Not A Math Person' Is No Longer A Valid Excuse

There's nothing surprising in this article: when people don't like something or feel they aren't destined to do it, they typically aren't very good at it or interested in learning it. Somehow this message resonates well in articles about learning math, but unfortunately such articles tend to focus on the problem instead of the solution. That's probably because the solution is rooted in a cultural shift in perceptions about mathematics, and cultural shifts of perception are not easy things to perform.

Evie Hudak resigns: Colorado state senator avoids recall election

I sat next to Evie Hudak when Diane Ravitch came to speak in Denver last September. She took notes and was visibly and audibly moved by Ravitch's speech, and I appreciated how passionate she was about public education. Sadly, a debate over gun control in Colorado has forced Hudak to resign instead of facing a recall election. That means Colorado Democrats can appoint another Democrat in her place and retain a slim majority in the State Senate, but I worry public education lost one of it's biggest advocates in the process.

How to escape a monster

Once you figure out that a solution exists, the mathematics in this problem ramps up quickly. If you feel like flexing your trigonometry muscles, this could be a good place to do it.

Wiping Yourself Out of History

In an attempt to "protect" their content, CBS tried to wipe the internet clean of Walter Cronkite's famous announcement of the death of President Kennedy. So what's the internet to do? Forget CBS and look elsewhere, of course. Ira Socol says there's a lesson here for all publishers, not just of news but of entertainment and academic content as well: "So, you have your choice. Hide behind paywalls and attack lawyers, or share your works with the world. Be part of the global conversation or confine your thoughts to an increasingly irrelevant elite. Figure out how to live via a culture of sharing and communication or sit back and imagine royalty checks rolling in."

Simpson's Paradox

Simpson's paradox is easier to understand with a good visualization. Here are several.

Udacity's Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

The "M" in MOOCs was supposed to represent massive enrollment, but in many ways it represented some people's massive expectations. Most educators I know where suspicious of MOOCs from the start -- not because you can't learn something from them, but because they're not well-designed to replace the role of a classroom and in-person teacher. Sebastian Thrun, after running Udacity for a few years and seeing the data, has realized this. Less than 10% of students finish courses, and many of those who finish are already well-educated. Thurn is responding by narrowing Udacity's focus on workforce training, and hopes to find an audience more in need of just-in-time education for employment and a more realistic set of goals for what MOOCs can and can't do well. For a good perspective on this story, I recommend reading Audrey Watters's post at

Under My Thumb |

This NYT op-ed made the point that Washington's $500 million/year, 16-year subsidy to Boeing seems disproportionate when compared to the $250 million the state gives the University of Washington. What if the university threatened to leave the state like Boeing did? Can you measure the economic impact of a university in ways comparable to a company like Boeing?

Chris Christie’s demented “you people” movement: The right’s school-for-cash obsession -

David Sirota's article might come off as alarmist or paranoid, but it makes clear that education, like most systems, institutions, or people, can be influenced by big money. Some of that big money surely does some good, but many of Sirota's examples are strings-attached kinds of deals where the funders' motives are questionable.

Are private schools better than public schools? New book says ‘no’

"When adjusted for demographics" is an important detail in this book, which claims that public schools outperform private schools. I'd like to read it to better understand the methodology used and the details the authors provide (I've read stuff from both Lubienskis) but part of me also realizes that as a strong advocate of public schools I don't mind the self-affirmation.

Unreliable research

The Economist takes a good look at the difficulty in "getting science right" by looking at problems with the statistics we use to measure significance, the incentives for publishers and peer reviewers, and our inattention to reproducibility. I fear some will read something like this and use it to discredit all science; I think science remains "the best game in town" and honest, healthy skepticism -- both in ourselves and in the structures that support and disseminate research -- will only make it get better.

Can we “fix” open access? | Scholarly Communications @ Duke

Recently there was a "sting" operation where a purposely bad article was submitted to a bunch of open access journals just to see which ones would stoop low enough (or care little enough) to publish it. A lot of journals took the bait, which of course makes not just those journals look bad, but makes open access look bad. In this blog post, Kevin Smith looks at how the sting was conducted and what we should learn from it.

 Christopher Chabris: Why Malcolm Gladwell Matters (And Why That's Unfortunate)

Malcolm Gladwell claims to "augment story-telling" with academic research, which upsets a lot of researchers when he doesn't get the science right. I understand that. But for me, I really wish more academic researchers would augment their writing with some Gladwell-esque story telling.

The Closing of Diane Ravitch’s Mind by Sol Stern, City Journal Autumn 2013

I don't wholly agree with Sol Stern, but I think his is an important perspective for those trying to understand Diane Ravitch's turnaround and current stance on educational standards and choice.

Bracing for Change: Colorado's New Teacher Evaluation System Goes Statewide|Bracing_for_Change_Colorados_New_Teacher_Evaluation_System_Goes_Statewide

There is going to be quite a lot of chaos as Colorado implements its new teacher evaluation system. I don't agree with all of it, but I didn't agree with all of the previous system, either, and I just hope that whatever good might come out of the new system far outweighs the bad.

The bottom line on charter school studies

Don't believe the hype, regardless of what you think the hype is. Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center and CU-Boulder ( says that the CREDO studies essentially find no difference in charter and traditional public schools as measured with student outcomes. Also, the CREDO studies suffer from a few methodological issues that should dissuade us from believing they are the definitive word in charter school research. (Also, I like this post because Kevin mentions hierarchical linear modeling and, just for a moment, I wanted to think that all the readers would know what that was. Given that I don't really know much about HLM, that fantasy faded quickly.)

Random thoughts of an editor on peer review | Brian M. Lucey

As a graduate student nobody really teaches you how to become a peer reviewer, but eventually you find yourself on the receiving end of an editor's email asking you to review somebody's paper. For me, I was pretty okay with the substance of the paper (the editor knew me and my skillset well) but I just wasn't too sure what was expected of me and what a typical review looked like. A list like this probably would have been helpful.

teaching / math / culture - Unicorn Preservation Society

While Ilana Horn doesn't mention anyone in particular in this post, I think her "unicorns" are the super-collegial math teachers we know on Twitter. Yes, they are special teachers and do not represent the majority, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. The unicorns can set a great example for others, and when it comes to research it's helpful to experiment with a treatment under ideal conditions (like with unicorns) before trying the treatment under typical conditions (unicorns in training).

No Child Left Untableted |

When it comes to technology in the classroom I think I'm pretty realistic. On the one hand, schools should prepare students to do knowledge work in a knowledge world, and technology (including tablets) are some of the tools of that work. On the other hand, I don't think many of our traditional outcome measures will reflect students with tablets versus without, and I'm skeptical of any single "fix" anybody claims will positively impact education at scale.

Loud Voice Fighting Tide of New Trend in Education |

A New York Times article describing some of Diane Ravitch's education activism.

Five bad education assumptions the media keeps recycling

Depending on your point of view, Alfie Kohn has either a knack for or a bad habit of describing the kind of education he wants through listing things he doesn't like about traditional education. For many people who have received a more traditional education, this can be either helpful or somewhat assaulting. For me, sometimes I have to look a little farther to see what progressive is instead of simply what it is not.

Atul Gawande: How Do Good Ideas Spread?

Bill Penuel passed this article along to our research group with the idea that the stories of how reforms are spread and scaled in medicine might be a lesson to those of us wishing to spread and scale reforms in education. I thought these two paragraphs were key: In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability. But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

DPS plans triple use of new building

As someone who has spent almost all their time in rural schools, it's interesting to think about what a true "downtown" school could be in an urban area. As a supporter of neighborhood schools, I'm glad that kids who live in downtown Denver will have a local school to attend.

Douglas County schools pilot color-coded student personality tests

Some sixth graders in Douglas County are part of a pilot program designed to test them for their preferred way of thinking (not "learning style"?): social, structural, conceptual, or analytical. Teachers are then expected to craft lessons in response to the test results. What do you think: good idea, worth a try, or bad idea? (Kudos to +The Denver Post for checking with the National Education Policy Center at CU-Boulder. Even better would have been a response from someone in the learning sciences, but Kevin Welner's point is a good one.)

Open letter to Sal Khan

I think there are two things I like about this post: One, it's critical without being spiteful, and two, the advice it offers is relevant to anyone wanting to be a better math teacher, not just Sal Khan.

The Legend of The Oregon Trail

In 1971, three student teachers in Minnesota decided to develop a text-only computer game to teach kids about the challenges of traveling the Oregon Trail. At the end of the semester, the source code was printed out onto a giant roll of paper and the program was deleted, only to come back to life several years later under the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, or MECC. (I remember their 5.25 inch floppies well!)

@NCTQ pitching their propaganda to higher education leaders – SCHOOLS MATTER @ THE CHALK FACE

If there were ever an example of marketing with a layer of research, I think it's the NCTQ report on teacher education. The NCTQ has, quite masterfully, created a report with catchy features like four-star ratings and foisted it upon the public with the assistance of most every major media outlet in the country. With all that, it's good to see that some straightforward, honest language can still get through.

Scholarly Group Seeks Up to 6-Year Embargoes on Digital Dissertations - Graduate Students - The Chronicle of Higher Education

I've read a lot of scholarly literature, but I've never read a non-digital dissertation. I have, however, read a few books that were adaptations of dissertations. The American Historical Association, concerned that openly accessible digital dissertations will cut into the demand for such books (and thus the profit from them), has asked for an embargo on electronic theses and dissertations for a period of 6 years. They claim that this will help scholars who need the esteem (and often the money) from a book deal, but as Kevin Smith points out at, there doesn't seem to be any real evidence that electronic theses and dissertations are actually affecting the book market.

Florence-Penrose School Board OKs contract to finalize cost estimates for repairs at FHS

The sad story at Florence High School might be headed for a happier ending. In the years since the school opened, an unsettled foundation has cracked walls and floors, unevened the football field, and left parts of the school unusable. This story is incorrect when it says "the problems at high school began shortly after the school was built" - I toured the school regularly as it was being constructed and cracks were appearing in walls even as it was being built. The builders knew of the instability and extra money was spent to remedy it, but those efforts fell short. Now that things are settled - literally and financially - hopefully the district can get FHS back into proper working order.

Community counts: Fostering rural STEM education

Twenty percent of students in the U.S. attend rural schools, but for a variety of reasons they don't grab many headlines. From a research perspective, grant funders want their money to make large impacts, and that usually leads to researchers partnering with large school districts, which leaves small rural districts out of such partnerships. The internet can bridge parts of that divide, but the challenges of rural districts go beyond network connectivity.

Why do schools refuse to send exams home?

Oh, this brings up little miserable memories for me. While I let students keep every piece of homework they did, and they got their daily quizzes back, I had decided that I would keep tests because I wanted to reuse them. I'd seen a number of students cheating with copies of old tests from older students and didn't want that happening to me, so I kept the tests. Sure, I would show them to parents (and made copies for them upon request), but otherwise they were carefully organized in my files. At the end of the year, before finals, each student would spend several days reviewing all their old tests, and it was nice to see them reflect on the progress they'd made through the year. Still, some parents didn't like my policy, and some students took advantage of it to tell their parents that they "couldn't study" because I kept "everything." I'd probably do things a little differently now, of course, but I'm still very well aware of the effort it takes to make good tests every year.

Everyone saw the biracial Cheerios commercial, but kids saw it differently

So Cheerios ran a commercial involving a white mother and a black father. While parts of the internet expressed their rage, these kids didn't even notice until somebody pointed it out to them, then got confused and upset that anybody would take issue with such a thing.

Rachel Jeantel's Language is English — It's Just Not Your English

Language is a fascinating thing, and if it wasn't obvious to you already, "English" sounds different and uses different words depending on where you're from and who you usually communicate with. I'd have difficulty understanding someone with a thick British accent and heavy British slang, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me, with the other person, or with the languages we speak. Unfortunately, when these kinds of language differences involve Black Americans, people sometimes blame or ridicule them. For the sad evidence, tread lightly in the comments to this article about Rachel Jeantel, a witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial.

Report: Mitch Daniels sought 'cleanup' of 'propaganda' in college courses

Emails show that Mitch Daniels, as governor of Indiana, tried to censor college curriculum that he opposed, such as Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." Daniels said of Zinn, "This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away. ... [Zinn's book] is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. ... [H]ow do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?" The book was being used in a course for teachers on Civil Rights, and Daniels approved a plan to "disqualify propaganda." I'm sure you're a nice place, Indiana, but it's things like this that put you down on my list of places I want to be.

Georgia Tech's $7000 polyester masters in computer science - I, Cringely

Robert X. Cringely looks at Georgia Tech's $7000 MOOC-ish master's in computer science and concludes, "You can only serve 40 times as many students with eight extra heads by *not* serving them." Basically, students who complete the program and pay the $7000 for the degree are going to get something, but it's not going to compare to the in-person, full-cost graduate program with access to researchers and their work.

Fuzzy math? School District to review how subject is taught

Some news of the math wars makes a solid attempt at balanced coverage. This article does not. Using "fuzzy math" in the title of the article and getting quotes from anti-reformers is pretty one sided, and I'm pretty sure the statement "You literally have to memorize" isn't something you'd hear a learning scientist familiar in math education say to describe how math is learned.

Shanker Blog » A Few Points About The New CREDO Charter School Analysis

Matthew Di Carlo at the Shanker Blog digs into the realities of the latest CREDO charter school study. While superficial readings of the report will conclude that charters seem to be doing better than was seen in the last study, there's a lot to keep in mind about relative performance, small effect sizes, sampling effects, and the judging of schools using only standardized scores in math and English.

Brandeis Tries a New Tactic to Speed Students to the Ph.D. - Graduate Students - The Chronicle of Higher Education

To help students on their way towards a Ph.D., Brandeis University is offering candidates a dissertation fellowship. In exchange for finishing their dissertations in a year, students agree to not engage in outside work. We have a similar agreement here in the School of Education at CU-Boulder: students are promised at least 3 years of full funding (and typically get more), but we aren't supposed to work outside the program. Part of that is to maintain our focus on our studies and decrease the time it takes to complete the program, but working as a graduate assistant in the program is seen as essential preparation for further careers in academia.

Ph.D. Attrition: How Much Is Too Much? - Do Your Job Better - The Chronicle of Higher Education

I'm pleased to say that of the 23 students in my PhD cohort we have seen the early departure of only two: one because she got the dream job she wanted to get after a PhD, and the other due to academic struggles (more or less). We've been generally supportive of each other, and I think that helps. Unfortunately, that's not the case in every cohort, and in our most recent cohort 3 of 14 students have chosen to leave after their first year. That's not the 50% attrition rate mentioned in the article, but PhD programs are long and inevitably some will not finish their dissertations.

Video: How Rap Battles Are Helping High Schoolers Learn to Love Science

Sometimes I worry that if people are only scanning headlines they might think the only advance in the teaching of math and science over the past 30 years is rap music. While I'm sure some students have been helped in some way by rapping their facts, I'm pretty sure this phenomena gets way more attention than it deserves compared to other research-based classroom practices.

Burton: I put hands outside car when pulled over

Actor LeVar Burton and author Tim Wise explain the differences in their interactions with police. For LeVar, the lyrics become "Butterfly in the sky, keep my hands nice and high. Take a look, I'm not a crook, I'm from Reading Rainbow..."

Oklahoma withdraws from national college readiness testing alliance

Oklahoma is dropping out of PARCC, and this story says (a) "dropping out of PARCC could save the state up to $2 million a year" and (b) "The state Education Department will take bids soon on testing options." I wish Oklahoma the best, but a little part of me thinks that in the long run Oklahoma might end up paying more for testing, not less, and the tests they get might not be as good.

Introduction to functions

Math teachers: When teaching a concept, have you ever tried to improvise an example or analogy and have it go wrong? To the point you're just rambling made-up nonsense that isn't helping anybody? Of course you have - we've all had this happen. But a good math teacher will sense the frustration -- both from students and from themselves -- and try something different. Other math teachers, unfortunately, just repeat that poor example over 500,000 times in 6+ years.

Some Guilford schools won't offer algebra next year

I worry every time I read one of these stories that people have the idea that aligning to the Common Core State Standards requires little more than rearranging the classes they already have. This story from North Carolina reports on the concern that kids won't take 7th grade algebra, waiting for 8th grade instead. If you're really trying to align to the CCSSM, I don't see any reason to call a middle school course "Algebra." There's plenty of algebra in the middle school CCSSM standards, yes, but there's a lot of other content too, and in the end it shouldn't come down to what you call the course. It will, though, because parents and students want the prestige of taking "algebra" early, regardless of what's taught in it.

The ‘neovoucher strategy’ (and why it didn’t work in New Hampshire)

Kevin Welner, CU-Boulder professor and director of the National Education Policy Center, literally wrote the book on neovouchers ( While regular vouchers involve the government giving tax revenues to parents for their children to attend private schools, "neovouchers" involve the government giving tax breaks to people who donate money for children to attend private schools. Either way, argues Welner, the government is funding private schools, and therefore we shouldn't be surprised at the recent New Hampshire court case that ruled against a neovoucher program.

Province's new approach to teaching math long overdue: readers

It's always interesting to see the math wars spill over our northern border, especially when reader comments get included in the story itself.

NCTQ Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report

The National Center on Teacher Quality evaluated more than 1,100 teacher education programs using data like course syllabi and program requirements. This has apparently led to a rather weak analysis (like you'd expect if you only judge restaurants from their menus), as many are now pointing out. Linda Darling-Hammond pointed out some of the missing data (, which prompted a NCTQ reply ( and another reply from Darling-Hammond ( Essentially, it's very unclear that NCTQ has enough data to evaluate programs, and in at least one case, it seems NCTQ evaluated a program that doesn't exist at the school they say it does.

Bruce Baker points out some hypocrisy in the report ( NCTQ says teacher quality is the key to student achievement, yet did nothing to evaluate the quality of the teacher educators that prepare new teachers. Ed Fuller broke down the report as well at, and the AACTE has something to say, too:

EdNews Colorado looked at the Colorado results ( and got some local reactions, including one from the Dean of the School of Education at UC-Denver, who pointed out that NCTQ gave them a zero for student teaching, claiming they don't have it, when in fact UC-Denver is one of the 5% of teacher prep programs nationally that require a full-year of student teaching (

Learn to give Dr. Bartlett's presentation on arithmetic, population and energy

Ever given a really good lecture? No, I mean *really good* - so good that you get asked to give it over and over again? CU-Boulder professor Al Bartlett ( has given his "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy" lecture over 1600 times, and the mathematical theme driving the lecture is humankind's difficulty in grasping the consequences of exponential growth. In order to spread Bartlett's lecture more widely, the CU Environmental Center will be giving a full-day training to those who wish to give the lecture themselves. Details and links to application materials can be found at

Study: Homeless, Mobile Students Face Academic Risk Beyond Poverty

Several years ago I worked with a professor who was interested in the effects of student mobility on academic performance. We wanted to use a large, national data set, but I imagine our results would have resembled those of a new study using data from Minneapolis Public Schools. Researchers found that 14 percent of students had been homeless over a six year period, and those students had significantly lower achievement and growth than other students. Still, many students showed resiliency against their mobility and homelessness, although no patterns in the data explained why.

Valuing physics over P.E., Colorado schools test novel pay scale

As a math teacher, I was always (selfishly) interested in teacher pay scales that valued hard-to-fill positions more. I think the current model for paying teachers, one based on experience and credits earned, is unfair. (I've touched on this before at The thing is, I'm not sure most merit pay models are any more fair, and I'd rather work in a system with an unfair system that teachers agree with than an unfair system they hate. Douglas County, Colorado, will be experimenting with a market-based approach to paying teachers, and some teachers don't sound happy about it.

Re-Thinking Education

Wisconsin Public Radio does a nice show called "To the Best of Our Knowledge" and a recent episode included Alfie Kohn on progressive education, Dana Goldstein on homeschooling, and education for the incarcerated.

Audio Transcription

Qualitative researchers spend a lot of time turning the dialog from audio and video into text transcripts. There's very little I haven't liked about grad school, but transcribing interviews might be near the top of the list. Thankfully, there are people who will transcribe for you, and Rev seems like a fast (48 hour turnaround) and relatively affordable ($1/minute of audio) transcription service.

Faulty logic in the new Math Wars skirmish

When I read the recent opinion piece in the New York Times ( I wanted to just dismiss it. The straw man was hard at work, with the authors claiming that teachers no longer taught algorithms, and since that would be bad, then reformers should lose the math wars and put math education back in the hands of (a few) mathematicians. Or something like that. I didn't comment much on the article (, but thankfully, Keith Devlin breaks it down paragraph-by-paragraph. I may not agree with every one of Devlin's assertions, but I stand behind his main point: To the extent we can generalize what happens in U.S. classrooms, teachers *do* teach algorithms, and the way they're taught now improves upon previous efforts and reflects technology's influence on how we do arithmetic.

L.A. Unified awards Apple $30-million contract for iPads,0,3194906.story

LAUSD superintendent John Deasy - who had previously appeared in promotional videos for Apple - negotiated a deal with Apple to purchase 35,000 iPads for $30 million. That works out to $857 per iPad, which suggests to me that the district's negotiators went easier on Apple than they would their teachers' union. Another source ( says the district is actually paying $678 per unit (which totals to $23.7 million) and the remaining money will be used to hire 15 "facilitators" and provide training and support.

Teenage chemistry enthusiast won't be charged with felony, will go to space camp

I'm glad I caught up with this story, as I'd previously ( written about Kiera Wilmot's troubles after her scientific curiousity was leading to a possible expulsion from school. Thankfully, more sensible thoughts prevailed, and not only have the charges been dropped, money has been raised to send her and her twin sister to Space Camp.


This is a great collection of photos of people stating why they need feminism. Most people (and myself, often) take too limited a view of feminism, and the examples here touch on a broad variety of perspectives.

Poverty matters more in the US

Michael Pershan takes a look at some PISA data and the link between poverty and achievement. For more, I recommend Dennis Condron's article in Educational Researcher about equity and excellence, as seen in PISA data:

How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wages war on public schools

In this post Scott McLeod channels the likes of Bruce Biddle and David Berliner, exposing how organizations become so adept at convincing us that our schools are failing despite so much evidence to the contrary. After all, you can't sell someone a "solution" until you convince them that they've got something that's broken.

The Faulty Logic of the ‘Math Wars’

Hey, has anyone seen the mathematics education reform straw man lately? He was quiet there for a bit, but he was recently seen at the New York Times and was reportedly hatin' on algorithms like it was 1989.

New UNI president has eye on the future

The new president at Northern Iowa seems to be saying the right things, and that's a good start. But whether ideas are new or old, the big issue I hope to see UNI get turned around is the rather persistent slip in enrollment that they've dealt with for much of the past decade. When enrollment grows, revenue grows, and you have options. Steady enrollment is manageable, but slipping enrollment squeezes the budget in uncomfortable ways, and budget cycles become an exercise in damage control.

Seattle Teacher Under Fire for Teaching Kids About Racism and Discrimination

Jon Greenberg is a Washington state teacher known in his school for teaching a popular class called, "Citizenship and Social Justice." However, discussions of race and privilege led a student to complain that it made her feel uncomfortable and intimidated, and now Greenberg is being transferred to another school. Further use of such pedagogy has been banned, despite the district's claims they believe in teaching about race and social justice.

MATHAGOGY | two minute mathematics education

Mathagogy is a site with teachers using two-minute videos to explain how they teach some aspect of mathematics. It could turn into a really cool site, but I'm somewhat skeptical due to the arbitrarily short length of the videos. Let me put it a different way: If Sal Khan kept all of his videos at 2 minutes or less, I'm sure many teachers would add that to their criticisms of Khan Academy.

The Unengageables | dy/dan

Dan Meyer takes on the skepticism that causes teachers to ask, "What if my kids just don't care?"

The Next Step in Math Blogging? | Informal Math

As much as I like the idea of teachers critiquing each others' practice, as a researcher I know there are some significant (and important) hurdles to overcome. The laws that protect research subjects require that we must protect people’s health and well-being, including their reputation. This usually means securing student assent and parent consent to participate in research, and while it’s relatively easy to get those if you’re sharing transcripts of classroom discussion while using pseudonyms, it can be very difficult to get if you’re using video to be shown to the world. I think the benefits of what you’re suggesting would far outweigh the negatives, and teachers collaborating and critiquing each others’ teaching might be the best way we can improve practice. But we have to figure out how to do it the right way, and I don’t think dismissing this as “not really research” is the way to go. Large school districts usually have a research office and maybe we can work with them to figure out a process to make this work.

Problem Of Math Educational Software Needs Solution - Education -

The problem, claims John Barnes, is that while software is good at providing practice with particular procedures, most of it is not good at developing learners' executive function, the metacognitive function that evaluates and chooses solution strategies. There apparently isn't a real good reason that most software doesn't do this, except it's harder than just scripting a repetitive problem set with cute graphics (which describes a lot of math software).

What Would Tesla Do? | The Canonical Hamiltonian

I don't and can't know all the details of what happened in this story, but it sounds to me like this girl belongs in college, not an expulsion program. Let's hope things work out for Kiera Wilmot, which could happen if enough adults around her gain some sense.

CU-Boulder student leaders push for return of 'reading days' before finals - Boulder Daily Camera

It was almost always the case that the week before finals was worse than finals week. Even as a graduate student, this week I have 3 papers due and a presentation. During finals week, just two papers.

mooc - Gsiemens on Diigo

I can't keep up with all the latest news about MOOCs. Thankfully, George Siemens does.

Should Teachers Count Off When Students Don’t Show Work? | StateImpact Indiana

Teachers are mis-interpreting the Common Core if they think it means students must show pre-formal strategies in their work even after they're proficient with formal mathematics, says Doug Clements. I agree. Having students show their work is important for building and interpreting their understanding, but once that's done it's just busy work. Move on.

Colquitt County teachers help study student interaction » Local News » Moultrie Observer

BREAKING: Newspaper surprised that letting kids talk to each other about what they're learning is helpful.

Bill loosening rules for Indiana school superintendents wins final legislative approval

Pending the governor's signature, Indiana is partially deregulating requirements for superintendents. Instead of requiring a teaching license and having completed graduate work in education administration, now superintendents are only required to have an unspecified master's degree.

Colorado House kills bill backing 4-year degrees at community colleges - The Denver Post

The argument about letting community colleges offer 4-year degrees leaves me thinking that the lengths of our education programs are too arbitrary to begin with. If I really wanted to shake up the community college system, or higher ed in general, I think it would be good to have more flexibility in degree lengths. The focus would switch more to the individual courses taken and skills acquired, and less on the degree itself. Is there a downside to this I'm not seeing?

Teachers' mistake results in zeros for Englewood students |

There seem to be one or two of these stories every year: Somewhere a teacher or school misadmisters the state test and every student involved gets a score of zero, even though not a single person involved makes any claim that's a fair or accurate way to represent students' abilities.

Survey shows demand still outstrips supply for doctorates in math education | Inside Higher Ed

When you're preparing for a career, it's always welcome news that there are a substantial number of job openings available. Some of my colleagues in other educational fields aren't always so fortunate.

Students 4 Our Schools - Home

Students 4 Our Schools, a student-led, Colorado-based organization for students, is planning a walkout of state testing on Thursday and a gathering at the Colorado State Capitol. I'm asking my School and Society students: Do you support their efforts? Would you join them? What questions would you ask of them? What advice would you give? Is this the right way to effect change?

Not Every Parent Chases College Prestige -

In School and Society we recently discussed not only the motivations to attend college, but the motivations to attend a particular college. This article discusses the importance (or lack thereof) of prestige from the parents' point of view. How important should prestige be to parents? To students? To future employers? What does prestige represent other than an ability to pay more (or get better scholarships)?

CRUME - Conference Program/Abstracts

This looks like a conference I would have enjoyed, especially the bits related to teaching undergraduate statistics. Somehow it escaped my radar until the last moment -- just as well, I suppose, as the $300+ registration fee would not have been kind to my budget. Still, there are some abstracts and short papers at the site that some may find useful.

A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students before they get in the door good | The Urban Scientist, Scientific American Blog Network

This is a great article by a scientist who describes the barriers she sees that are preventing disadvantaged students from being more involved in science. Sometimes it's "just" a lack of resources, but other times the barriers range from benign discouragement to active exclusion by people in gatekeeping roles.

Freshman Survey: This Year, Even More Focused on Jobs - Students - The Chronicle of Higher Education

For college freshmen surveyed in 2012, 88 percent said that getting a good job was their primary motivation for getting higher education. That answer typically corresponds to the economy, and only when the economy is strong do more students say higher education is something they're pursuing primarily out of intellectual interest. More about the responses to the survey can be found at

Parent blog: Why we chose an online school | EdNewsColorado

This is written by a parent who feels their child is having a good experience as a student of an online school. I have no doubt that online school is "working" (in the sense that it's somehow better than the local traditional alternative) for some students, but research on the overall and average effectiveness of online education is not so positive.

Why much-praised KIPP D.C. expels kids - Class Struggle - The Washington Post

We haven't talked specifically about charter schools yet in the School and Society class, but I'm posing these questions for discussion: Charter schools usually have much more power and flexibility to expel a student for misbehavior than a regular public school. Expulsion can be tricky because, legally, the child is still required to attend a school, which is why D.C. usually relies on "involuntary transfers." Under what conditions do you think it's fair to expel a student, and is it fair for different kinds of schools to have different powers to expel?

Online Courses Could Widen Achievement Gaps Among Students - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle reports on a study that found for students who traditionally struggle in traditional educational environments, online environments don't make the problem better, and in some cases, make the achievement gap worse.

Review of State Policy Report Card | National Education Policy Center

Last month when StudentsFirst assigned letter grades to states for their education policies, it didn't take a genius to figure out that the grades had more to do with aligning to StudentsFirst's agenda, and less to do with current student outputs and experiences. Still, it's welcome news that my colleague Ken Libby and +Sherman Dorn have given StudentsFirst's report a scholarly treatment, digging past the PR efforts to examine StudentsFirst's sources, methods, scoring criteria, and accuracy. While Libby and Dorn found, overall, the report card usefully identified states with policies that StudentsFirst favors, "there is no independent reason to find value in the report as an accurate guide to the effectiveness of the rated state policies" (p. 6).

Lively fight waged against sex ed bill | EdNewsColorado

This article might be good fodder for my School and Society students, as sex education seems like an area where what some adults want to learn does not align with what the students themselves want (and probably feel a need) to learn. There are moral hazards on both sides, one bounded by religion and parents' rights and the other bounded by the responsibility of those who purposely withhold scientifically helpful information from someone who could need it.

Tucson School District Struggles for Equality -

This article seems to combine some mixed news: On the one hand, the Tuscon school board lifted its objection to "culturally relevant curriculum." I look forward to reading stories about the restoration of the Mexican-American studies program in Tuscon. Less welcome news is the end of a desegregation order in Tuscon. Given Arizona's strong support of school choice, a desegregation order will only make it easier for schools to resegregate.

Non-believers taking college campuses by storm -

For the non-religious, being asked to join a prayer can be a very uncomfortable experience. Typically, this can be avoided on a public college campus, and the growth of secular student groups is promoting a more welcoming environment for atheist and other non-believing students. This can lead to come competition and contention, and I can see how a pro-secular environment on campus might make religious students equally uncomfortable.

New York City Schools Struggle to Separate the Gifted From the Just Well-Prepared -

Compared to my getting into college and graduate school, getting into a selective New York City kindergarten seems like a pretty high-stakes, stressful process. And like elsewhere, parents and students are finding ways to game the system, usually with the help of test-prep companies who are more than eager to sell their services to privileged parents who want what's best for their kids. I'm not against talented and gifted education (I was a TAG kid myself), but I'm not sure it belongs in kindergarten, and I'm not sure it should serve a sorting and segregating function within the public school system.

Rethink TFA | The Harvard Crimson

I've had a number of students express an interest in Teach for America. Some fit the traditional profile: high-achieving students who are looking for a recognized experience before a career in business, medicine, law, etc. A few others have been upperclassmen who decided late they want to be teachers, and they're looking to alternatives to the extra semesters of coursework and student teaching they'd need if they went through the School of Education. But what I think this article tries to stress is a decision not just to become a teacher, but to become a *good* teacher. Some research suggests that although the few TFA teachers who make it five years in the classroom are not measurably different from traditionally-trained teachers, what about all the students who suffered with below-average teaching while the TFA teacher learned on the job?

Recruiting in Classrooms??? | The Education Optimists

When I taught our introductory teacher education courses, we would occasionally let select organizations come into our class to recruit students. In most all cases, these organizations were allowed in because they provided our students additional opportunities to work with kids, something they'd need at least 25 hours of to apply to the School of Education. But when it comes to Teach for America, I can't think of anyone in the School of Education who would let them recruit in their classrooms. After all, as my advisor David Webb pointed out, "Do you think representatives of the School of Education would be welcome if they tried to recruit kids at TFA events?"

Back to the Future: High School Graduation Rates

Graduation rates are at a 40-year high, a positive bit of news that hasn't gotten much attention. Larry Cuban speculates that the reason we don't celebrate this more has something to do with knowing that we still have many underperforming schools. More likely, says, Cuban, the lack of attention is rooted in our belief that our schools are failing, as evidenced by most education rhetoric since A Nation at Risk.

CU-Boulder announces 3 finalists for new conservative scholar position - Boulder Daily Camera

CU has raised the money to fund a new faculty position: the "Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy." The list of candidates has been narrowed down to three finalists, and CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano refers to the program as "a novel idea to further enrich discourse on our campus." As some of the comments to this story point out, this program can be interpreted as an affirmative action program for conservative scholars, and I wonder how these scholars feel about that.

New Broad Street program engages all staff in math instruction -

I personally like the idea of elementary schools using teachers with more content-area expertise, but I question if the schools who need this the most will have the resources to have specialists. It sounds like this school is trying some ways to be flexible with teacher planning time and enrichment periods to get the most out of their specialists.

River Valley High teacher shows students how to rock math | math, song, river - Appeal-Democrat

I'm never sure what I should think when I read stories about singing/rapping math teachers. First of all, does the story give an accurate view of that teacher's classroom? Surely it's not all singing, all the time. Do stories like this unfairly distort the public's idea of what represents a good math teacher? Can music really take students to a level of understanding beyond memorization? (See the slope music video and decide for yourself:

UPDATE: Ruud selected as new president of University of Northern Iowa

Today UNI selected William Ruud as their next president. I didn't read as much about Ruud's qualifications and visit to the university, but I wish him and UNI the very best.

UPDATE: Presidential candidate: UNI censure likely, not 'the worst thing'

From afar, and only paying it some attention, I'm liking Michael Wartell as a candidate to become UNI's next president. It sounds like he's willing to speak candidly about mistakes that have been made and how to get past them.

Second-grade Loveland student reportedly suspended for imaginary weapon - Boulder Daily Camera

A boy pretending to save the earth destroyed an imaginary evil thing in an imaginary box with an imaginary grenade. For that brave/creative/7-year-old boy act, his school has given him a real suspension.

Fort Collins high school club takes up Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic | The Coloradoan |

A school in Fort Collins recently conducted the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. A question for my School and Society students: If you were the principal of this school, what would you tell parents who complained?

Girls at North Arlington school swear not to swear as part of lesson in civility : page all -

A Catholic school in New Jersey has had its female students take a pledge to not swear, but no such request was made of male students. Is this fair? Illegal? Newsworthy? Does your school have any rules that applied to one sex and not the other? When is it appropriate for rules to apply to some but not others?

Harvard Forced Dozens to Leave in Cheating Scandal -

Around 70 Harvard students have been forced out of the university after a cheating scandal. Harvard says the students cheated, but students claim their answers were similar because they studied together and got help from the same TAs. I'm asking this of my School and Society students: Which side do you believe? Is expulsion the right punishment?

Teachers Accused of Cheating on Qualifying Exams -

I don't think there's anything good about this story, but I would like to ask my School and Society students these questions: (1) Do you think teachers should have to pass certification exams? If so, what should the test cover? (2) Should teachers be subjected to ongoing testing throughout their career? (3) If you were a parent of a child who had been taught by a teacher who cheated on their exam, what recourse would you take?

The Fischbowl: The Twitter Distortion Field

I enjoy reading insights about how social media can influence teaching practice. Many are simple "Twitter's the best PD I've ever had!" but here Karl Fisch takes a much more serious look at how our perceptions of education are affected by the interactions we have online.

Marsha Godard, Chicago Mother, Fined Over $3,000 For Son's Behavior At Noble Network Charter School

A charter school system in Chicago fines students for disobedience and other violations of school policy. Do you think fining students is an acceptable punishment? What do you think the school should do with students who can't pay?

Popular study strategies called ineffective — report

This article cites a report that claims some popular study strategies are ineffective. Which of the study strategies do you use? Do you agree with the findings? If students are studying in ineffective ways, who should be responsible?

Dartmouth Stops Credits for Excelling on A.P. Test -

Dartmouth says students with high AP scores aren't any better prepared than students without, so starting in 2018 they won't give students credit for AP. I wonder what my School and Society students will think about this, as I'm sure many of them earned college credit through AP.

Hundreds of Teachers Rally Against Standards Based Grading - Maple Grove, MN Patch

It's often very difficult to know from a news story what's going on in a school district. In this district, teachers are rallying against standards based grading, and the article doesn't explicitly say why. I get the sense that SBG here might have been implemented as a top-down mandate, which is rarely an effective educational policy strategy. I also sense that some of the protesting teachers might have interpretations of SBG that are different from mine, and they haven't gotten to see how it might be worth the effort in their classrooms.

Bill to put Right to Work in Iowa Constitution advances amid criticism from unions | Des Moines Register Staff Blogs

Iowa has been a right-to-work state since 1947, but lawmakers, with apparently nothing else to do, want Iowa to be even more right-to-worky by moving the law into Iowa's constitution. Given that this probably won't get past Iowa's Senate, I don't see how anyone sees this as a wise and efficient use of government, regardless of your position on unions.

Outrage over 'Distribute the Wealth' worksheet | Shownotes

Beware how the distributive property is being used to indoctrinate children as part of a liberal agenda (says Fox News). Seriously, if liberals were in charge of how the distributive property worked, it's more likely problems like 2(4x + 6y) would come out like 10x + 10y, assuming x and y should be treated as equal while respecting their differences.

Hickenlooper touches education bases | EdNewsColorado

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper addressed school funding issues in his "State of the State" speech, saying, "TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23 shouldn't be viewed in isolation. They create a fiscal knot that can't be untied on strand at a time." The challenge to untie that knot is large, as these are constitutional issues, not just policy.

dy/dan » Blog Archive » Is This Press Release From 2012 or 1972?

Dan Meyer illustrates the parallels between the individualized education movement of the early 1970s and the technology-driven "personalized" movement we're seeing now. It's something that's hard not to notice when reading Erlwanger's Benny paper now, like I did in this post from 2011:

AAUP committee condemns UNI administrators' actions surrounding budget cuts

The continuing administrative issues at the University of Northern Iowa sadden me. When I was a student there in the late 90s, I talked to more than one professor who said one of the biggest reasons they were at UNI was because they treated their faculty well. Year-after-year budget cuts and some questionable (at best) actions by President Ben Allen and the administration seems to have all but eliminated that feeling of good will. UNI is currently seeking candidates to replace Allen, who is retiring, and I hope the new president is particularly skilled at mending fences.

Academic Men Explain Things to Me

This is a great site where smart women can vent about the men who talk down to them. I might browse some of the posts and use them when we talk about gender issues in School and Society, which I'll be teaching again this spring.

PodOmatic | Podcast - Math Ed Podcast

Sam Otten, an assistant professor at Missouri, has been doing a podcast that features math education researchers. I think this kind of disintermediation could grow into a great thing, bringing teachers and researchers together in ways that journals and conferences can't. I've added it to my podcast app and will be listening to some of the back episodes to get caught up.

JSTOR to offer limited free access to content from 1,200 journals | Inside Higher Ed

Among the journals JSTOR is making accessible, I found the following mathematics education journals: the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education (JRME, NCTM's main research journal), Mathematics in School (a teacher-targeted UK journal), The Mathematics Teacher (NCTM's journal for HS teachers), For the Learning of Mathematics (an international research journal), Teaching Children Mathematics (NCTM's elementary teacher journal), and Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School (NCTM's journal for MS teachers). It's not a huge list, but if you had to have access to just one, it's probably JRME.


I've used ConstructMap and R to do the calculations behind Item Response Theory, a set of educational measurement techniques and tools for analyzing test items and test respondents. It can get a bit complex, and it doesn't help that some of the software is difficult to learn. I've never tried jMetrik, but it looks more user-friendly than either ConstructMap or R.

The Mathematics Teaching Community

The Mathematics Teaching Community looks to be a Reddit-style site for teachers of math to ask questions and post stories. As much as I like the idea, it's difficult for such sites to gain traffic. I've added it to my RSS feed, and hope to share interesting discussions when they come about.

Math Reasoning Inventory

I suppose sites and resources like this are a good thing, but after talking to a group of teachers at the EdCamp Colorado conference last fall, it sounded like diagnostic tools were outweighing effective intervention strategies. A diagnostic instrument can be bought or downloaded, but the intervention sometimes takes the time and skill of a master teacher, something far more difficult to package and deliver.

Aurora theater shooting victim Caleb Medley to go home from long-term care - The Denver Post

Good news for my former student - Caleb is slowly getting better and able to stand (albeit briefly) on his own. He still hasn't been able to speak, but I have hope -- trust me, he seemed to get plenty of practice talking when he was in class! There's a site dedicated to helping him at