Fourth Grade Math: A Dad’s Journey From Frustration To Realization
After criticizing unfamiliar methods to learning mathematics, a father decides to learn more and discovers that he had been too quick to judge. Kudos to Kirk Englehardt for being willing to publicly change his mind on the internet, something seen all-too-rarely.

Missouri state senator aims to block student's dissertation on abortion
Hidden in all the other chaos at the University of Missouri earlier this month was this story, in which a Missouri state senator tried to prevent a student from completing a dissertation about abortion. As far as I can tell, the attempt was unsuccessful and the dissertation will be completed. However, it's not necessarily because academic freedom prevailed -- rather, the student and university showed that the dissertation work was not funded through scholarships and grants from the university or otherwise tied to state funding, which could be construed as against Missouri's law that prohibits using public funds to promote non-life-saving abortions. Academic content standards like the Common Core are a hot-button topic. Not as hot as abortion, I'd say, but still hot enough that I would not be shocked to hear about anti-Common Core lawmakers attempting to muck around in the work of those of us who study academic standards like the CCSS. We're still seeing resistance from science committee members of the U.S. House of Representatives who think it should be up to them to decide what the National Science Foundation finds worthy of funding (, as they question climate science research and various kinds of work in the social sciences. As a grad student whose primary funding came from the NSF, I'd rather Lamar Smith not get to pick and choose what research he likes and dislikes. Similarly, I think we need research to better understand how abortion policies affect the lives of women, regardless of the source of funding.

Racial Wealth Gap Persists Despite Degree, Study Says - The New York Times
Growing up I was told a college degree was the key to a better job, higher salaries, and a better life. That's still largely true, but more true if you're white than if you're Black or Latino/a. The differences are especially stark when you look not at income, but at wealth.

The Smartest Dumb Error in the Great State of Colorado | Math with Bad Drawings
The sign featured in this post by Ben Orlin is just up the hill from where I sit, and I think of it as an elaborate explanation of what I once heard from a veteran math teacher: "If you have 2 dogs and 3 houses, you don't have 5 dog houses."

Iowa's next exams? The smarter you are, the harder they get
This Des Moines Register story about standardized testing is a pretty good look at the shifting landscape of large-scale assessment in schools. In Iowa, the Iowa tests, such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, have been regularly administered for decades. But with new multi-state standards, accountability needs, and advances in technology, Iowa is one of many states demanding their tests do more and do it affordably.

The President and The Yes Men
I was aware that the University of Iowa was searching for a new president and then quite suddenly in my Twitter stream I saw an announcement of a hire followed by a lot of discontent, frustration, and anger. Bruce Harreld was chosen for the job despite questionable qualifications, and as details of the search process become more clear it seems he may have been the only person seriously considered by the Iowa Board of Regents. Many have cried foul and some have protested, and in this blog post, one says Harreld and his selection for the job is so preposterous it could possibly be confused as performance art rather than reality.

Financial Woes Plague Common-Core Rollout - WSJ
I empathize with teachers and school leaders in places where academic standards have become such a political football (even more than usual) that policymakers have reversed course and either gone back to old standards or proposed new, better, but don't-exist-yet standards. Such is the case in Oklahoma, where a couple years of building capacity to support the Common Core State Standards came to a halt when lawmakers decided to take the state in a different direction. Some of what schools did for CCSS was probably just in the name of high-quality teaching and learning, and those investments were hopefully well-made. Books mentioning CCSS that now have to be hidden away represent dollars wasted.

How (and Why) to Generate a Static Website Using Jekyll, Part 1 – ProfHacker - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education
I always seem to have a need to build one website or another, and I like the idea of static content, but I haven't yet invested the time in learning something like Jekyll. Maybe it's because GitHub is still a bit of a black box to me, or maybe it's because I don't know how easily others would be able to manage a site I create, but I'll return to posts like this if and when I get to creating new sites. I'll also revisit, Vincent Knight's post about using Jekyll as a teacher.

Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools
This news about limiting testing in schools is a bit more mixed than some people seemed to think. First, 2% of time on standardized testing isn't that far off from what I've experienced here in Colorado: out of a 1080-hour school year, students might spend about 12 hours on state testing in the spring, 4 hours on another test in the fall, and maybe another 4 on a test like the ACT or a pre-ACT test. That's 20 hours, which is slightly less than 2% of 1080 hours. However, in some districts these tests are accompanied by all kinds of in-district tests which, while not required by the state or Department of Ed, still feel like an imposition on many teachers and students. So while the message that testing is important and necessary is still clearly being communicated by the Department of Education, proponents of less testing hope that there's a shift in tone away from the high-stakes use of testing we've had in the NCLB era.

Building A Worldwide Math Community
Using social media helps build connections with people before you've "met" them. Kristen Gray writes about how this is particularly helpful when you find yourself at an academic conference like NCTM, because what used to be strangers are now acquaintances.

The Other Autistic Muppet
Saying Fozzie Bear is autistic isn't exactly a clinical diagnosis, but I liked this article for the way it expands thinking about autism and what it might look like in people (or puppets?) who we don't immediately think of as autistic.

Bringing it back home: Why state comparisons are more useful than international comparisons for improving U.S. education policy
A few years ago Gene Glass wrote ( that rather than using international test data to compare ourselves to other countries (which our policymakers love to do), we should better understand the great variability of educational outcomes within our own country and learn what students and schools in higher-scoring areas are doing that's different. In this new report from the Economic Policy Institute, they recommend the same thing and add their findings to a growing body of evidence that shows that while average test scores across the U.S. might not rank at the top of the world, students in certain states or students of higher socioeconomic status in the U.S. score similarly to students in Finland or Singapore. So rather than think there's some "exotic" solution to import from a country on the other side of the world, maybe some of the keys to our educational troubles are already here and staring us in the face if we just focus on the variability within our own country.

Common Core Math is Not the Enemy
This is a nice short post promoting flexibility in our thinking about how computation should be taught. The truth is, whether we teach for flexibility or not, this kind of flexibility is present in people who are numerically and computationally fluent, and that this is a skill that can be learned when it is part of a well-designed curriculum. Of course, not all are convinced that mathematics education should look this way, and it's easy to pit algorithm vs. discovery in a false dichotomy. But that's unnecessary, just as making Common Core the enemy is unnecessary.

Evidence at the Crossroads Pt. 1: What Works, Tiered Evidence, and the Future of Evidence-based Policy
This looks like the start of a nice series of blog posts about research evidence use in schools from the William T. Grant Foundation. I like the setup here: about 10 years ago we made a big push for using "what works" and set high standards for high-quality research, mostly in the form of randomized controlled trials. Now we're seeing that research use in schools is more complex than that, and local school leaders need more information not about the average effects of a treatment, but how that treatment can be expected to work under their local conditions and the resources needed for quality implementation.

Remember Your Old Graphing Calculator? It Still Costs a Fortune — Here's Why
As a math teacher, it was frustrating to tell high school students they needed to spend $100 or more on an outdated piece of technology that I knew was overpriced. That was more than 5 years ago, and math teachers are still telling their students this. Now, working on building digital curriculum, I have the frustration of knowing that the $100+ students spend on a calculator is probably better spent on a Chromebook or a cheap tablet, either of which is far more powerful than the calculator. However, these calculators fill a certain niche and their lack of power and connectivity makes them allowable during testing, a "feature" TI is happy to preserve as long as they can.

Easy reference guide to University of Queenslands' DENIAL101x videos
A student of the Denial101x MOOC on climate change denial made this handy index of all the videos in the course.

The Logic of Stupid Poor People
This is a great essay by Tressie MC explaining why poor people (particularly those from marginalized communities) buy status symbols seemingly beyond their means. Some accuse the poor of being stupid and wasteful, but that's almost certainly not the case. Too often, status symbols are purchased by the poor because there are so few ways for them to gain status, and when other avenues are denied, spending money to make ones' self look or live nicer can bring respect that, although not necessarily earned, is needed to either get by or get ahead.

The Heinemann Fellows: Michael Pershan on a Year of Feedback
This post is a great example of a teacher who is willing to be very reflective and self-critical in order to push his students to think more deeply about mathematics. Here, Michael Pershan carefully reviews the kinds of feedback he's given students and dissects the nuances and how they might have elicited different kinds of student thinking.

Colorado Springs mayor 'shocked' to learn that voter information pamphlet claims don't have to be true
I occasionally guest teach about Colorado school finance to some of our School and Society classes. While not essential for understanding how schools are funded, I tell students about Douglas Bruce, how he championed Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), and how when I say he doesn't like taxes, he really, really doesn't like taxes.

A Colorado Teacher Shortage Puts Rural Schools On The Brink Of Crisis
I really enjoyed teaching in rural Colorado schools, but even I wasn't looking for a job in the eastern part of the state, far from the mountains and the resources of the Front Range cities. They have it rough out there, and low salaries in small districts don't help. Recruiting teachers from out of state helps fill positions that need filled, but I don't know how many of those positions stay filled over time.

Curious Minds, Serious Play | Jan de Lange | TEDxAmsterdamED
I really like this talk by Jan de Lange, former director of the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands. Curious Minds is a project that explores the creativity and reasoning of young children, and tries to support that creativity and reasoning as they get older and we too often see this kind of thinking decrease (or become hidden).

MAP Project Portfolio, Inverness Research Inc
The Mathematics Assessment Project ( is a popular site for tasks and lessons suitable for meeting the Common Core State Standards. Inverness Research has contributed to MAP by studying the use of the resources and documenting the challenges and benefits of using them.

San Francisco Middle Schools No Longer Teaching ‘Algebra 1′
Yet another story about Algebra 1 where people have a false impression that (a) algebra is a thing you learn in just one year and (b) learning that thing in 8th grade makes you better than if you learn it in 9th grade. If you look at what the Common Core asks 8th graders to do -- not just in the algebra standards, but in the statistics standards -- I think most parents would see that the focus on linear equations and linear modeling is as much "Algebra 1" as the algebra course they probably took as 9th graders in their youth.

Numbers mount for first-grade math whizzes
I hope these first graders make their goal of reaching 150,000 problems completed on IXL. It's good to have and reach goals. But then I hope they consider a different goal, something richer than the fill-in-the-blank e-worksheet that IXL tends to be.

Asimov - The Relativity of Wrong
This essay by Isaac Asimov illustrates how rather than just being wrong, theories get better over time as our evidence and experiences lead us to improve upon existing ideas. Parts of this remind me of Andy diSessa's "Knowledge in Pieces" theory of learning and how when someone's construction of knowledge doesn't match your own, it's helpful to think about the experiences they have had to logically get to where they are.

Lorrie Shepard to retire as CU-Boulder School of Education dean
This hasn't been a secret, but it was nice to see CU-Boulder announce Lorrie Shepard's upcoming retirement as dean of the School of Education. She's served CU for 41 years, first as a graduate student, then as a professor, and later as our dean. She'll continue in the School of Education as a Distinguished Professor, and I'm sure I'm not the only one grateful to know her energy and wisdom is staying in the building.

Augusta Schurrer (1925-2015)
I came across this by chance, but my Calculus II professor, Augusta Schurrer, this past January 1 at the age of 89. I was her student in her 47th -- and last -- year at the University of Northern Iowa, where she joined the faculty in 1950. Some has been written about her life in a book called "Women Succeeding in the Sciences," which explains how she entered Hunter College in 1941 at the age of 15 and then went to Wisconsin-Madison for a PhD in 1945. During World War II college mathematics departments were more open to taking female students, and Schurrer figured that had she arrived in Madison a few years later she wouldn't have gotten the assistantships and financial support she received.

Math Wars North
Nat Banting summarizes a recent flare-up in the math wars, which are going as strong in parts of Canada in recent years as anywhere in the United States. If there's one thing we've learned on Google+, one must be careful when framing this as mathematicians versus math teachers, because not all mathematicians think alike on this topic.

Longmont valedictorian silenced over speech disclosing he was gay
As a class valedictorian, Evan Young was supposed to give a speech at his graduation ceremony. He had themed it around respect for people's differences, and had planned his own coming out as gay as part of the speech. The principal of the school told him to remove that part of the speech but Young refused, leading the school to cancel his speech and _not even recognize Young as a valedictorian_. The school's board of directors said in a statement that graduation was "not a time for a student to use his commencement speech to push his personal agenda on a captive audience, and school officials are well within their rights to prevent that from happening." As if this story couldn't get worse, Young hadn't even yet come out to his own parents. So instead of getting to do that on his own terms, the principal outed him on a phone call to his parents. Thankfully, they seem to have taken the news well and have turned their attention to the unfairness of their son not being able to speak or be recognized as valedictorian. A local LGBT advocacy group, Out Boulder, is organizing an event where Evan Young will give his speech as part of a fundraiser.

New study takes hard look at National Council on Teacher Quality’s ratings of teacher prep programs
There's an organization called the National Council on Teacher Quality that creates a lot of attention for itself by promoting a ranking system it's developed for teacher preparation programs. The NCTQ rankings have irked many people in teacher education, generally because the methods and criteria used in the rankings appear flawed, such as judging a university's program by content found in course syllabi. These feelings now appear validated, as Gary Henry and folks at Vanderbilt have done some research of their own and found that NCTQ rankings more or less have no correlation with the average effectiveness of graduates of teacher education programs.

Ashley Elementary School in Denver reinvents itself in Common Core era
I've sadly grown accustomed to poor education reporting on the Common Core State Standards. Sometimes there's no distinction between the standards and curriculum, or a misunderstanding about the adoption and implementation process, or decontextualized simplifications (or fabrications) of the standards that make them look silly. So hats off to Eric Gorski of The Denver Post for this great 3-part series looking at Common Core implementation in Denver area schools. Gorski manages to capture the complexity and the challenge without mucking up the finer points about what the standards are and aren't, and all three parts are worth a read. Part 1: Part 2: Part 3:

A senior year mostly lost for a Normandy honor student
This story is sad for three reasons: (1) Kids at this school aren't getting the opportunities they deserve, (2) It illustrates the persistence of the inequalities in the St. Louis area that Jonathan Kozol wrote about 25+ years ago, and (c) in a system of school choice, this kind of thing is expected, and (according to market theories) the blame for this situation is partly on the kids for not transferring to another school. This last one particularly bothers me, as I think every student has a right to a high-quality neighborhood school, and shouldn't have any reason to shop for a better one.

Translating STEM: From Curriculum to Career

My Google+ friend Antonia Malchik wrote an article about STEM education last year that included some of my comments. When I hear someone say "STEM," or "our school has a STEM curriculum," I always wonder what they mean by that. For some, it's some kind of innovative new hybrid curriculum combining elements of science, tech, engineering, and math. That's probably what it's *supposed* to be, or what people aspire for it to be. But in reality, I think it just signifies extra attention to math and science, which itself is not a bad thing.

#1062; The Terrible Sea Lion

There have been many moments in the debate over Common Core where I have seen someone make a claim that is either untrue or unfounded. On occasion, I have been tempted to press people -- politely -- for explanations, in the hopes that they will admit the error in their claim, thinking, or belief. As most of us know, that's not usually how debates on the internet play out, and to that other person I'm little more than a typical internet troll. Well, maybe a little more: I'm a *sea lion*. The term comes from this Wondermark comic and it's become a meme all its own, with the verb "sea-lioning": I'm not exactly sure how to resolve differences on the internet, but I do not plan on making sea-lioning my primary tactic.

How to Introduce a Young Scholar to Twitter

Some pretty good tips for academics learning to use Twitter. I still find it curious when academics, who build their careers by publishing publicly, either don't see the relevance or are nervous about using a public social network.

Lessons And Directions From The CREDO Urban Charter School Study

The latest big charter school study looked at urban charters and found, on average, that charter schools in 42 urban areas are having a positive impact on test scores when compared to traditional public schools in those areas. Depending on how you interpret effect size, "positive" can look rather big (a charter student shows an additional 40 days of learning in math) or rather small (a charter student is at the 52nd percentile in math instead of the 50th). Perhaps more importantly, there's a lot to tease apart in the phrase "on average." There is still a wide range of performance seen in charters, as there is in public schools, and these large-scale studies don't tell us much of the story. For that, writes, Matt Di Carlo, we should really be looking more closely at *why* some schools perform better than others, and avoid the typical charter vs. public debate that often fails to actually look at what's happening inside the schools.

10 Arguments Against Common Core that Presidential Hopefuls Should Avoid

I like this list of arguments to avoid regarding the Common Core State Standards. I particularly like the analogy made in #4 regarding the CCSS not being "research based." Standards are goals, and Shanahan's comparison to goals for unemployment rates is useful. #9 is good, too. Implying you support a federal mandate that tells states what they can't do (like adopt common standards) is a funny way to say you support local control.

Iowa Lost Schools

Rural school district consolidation is a huge issue in my home state of Iowa. What used to be thousands of school districts are now down to a few hundred, some stretching across multiple counties to boost enrollment and raise revenues in the face of tough funding futures. In the process, buildings go empty and people struggle with what it means to be a community. The Des Moines Register's coverage looks to be excellent, although I don't see it changing what is inevitable for many small Iowa communities.
A Des Moines Register's yearlong project documenting the changes that Iowa communities face as they lose their school districts to declining enrollment and financial strains. Readers can follow the story online and participate in an interactive documentary project of Iowa's closed schools at or on social media using the hashtag #LostSchools. Read the coverage at

An Open Letter to My Students: I Am Sorry For What I Am About To Do To You

It's standardized testing season, and while I try to understand the position taken in this post, I could never see myself writing it. I've interacted with many other teachers and students who didn't like standardized testing, but down deep I always enjoyed the experience -- the challenge of the test, the navigation of multiple-choice answers, and the rewards for doing well. Testing for me was cathartic, a way to perform and express myself in a way I was good at. Some people can relax with a crossword puzzle. I can relax with the ACT. I know it's not like that for most people, but the more I realize and understand my biases the better I'll be at understanding what strikes me as odd when I read posts like this.

Recent Study Shows Our Teachers Make an Impact

If you only read this post, you'd think the study Teach for America is referencing showed TFA teachers were heads-and-shoulders above the rest. But dig just a little further -- really, just a little -- and read the brief of the Mathematica report ( and you'll find that in almost all the cases, TFA teachers performed about the same as other teachers in the study. Only in lower elementary reading did the study find students of TFA ahead of those of other teachers. TFA might brag that this study used "gold standard" research methods, but they sure didn't do a "gold standard" job of honestly interpreting the results.

Put to the test: Derek Briggs of CU on PARCC

Derek Briggs is on the technical advisory committees of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two testing consortia attempting to create a new generation of assessments to measure student understanding in English language arts and mathematics. (Derek is also my boss this year and taught a few of my classes.) Here Derek talks openly about PARCC, the test now being administered in Colorado. I've seen Derek in action long enough to know that he's not afraid to take a stand when he knows the evidence is on his side. But when it comes to PARCC, however, Derek knows that most of the evidence is yet to be collected. I found his thoughts here hopeful and realistic without being overconfident, and I hope people appreciate the challenge of creating tests that are noticeably better than ones used in the past.

Half Century

I only taught full-time for six years, well short of my 50th birthday. Here Shireen Dadmehr reflects on teaching after 18 years, having learned a lot of lessons along the way. A lot of these are familiar to me. Some I got. Some I was getting. Some I was looking forward to.

State Board blows up science, social studies test scores

Colorado policymakers can't decide where to set cut scores for science and social studies tests given last fall, and they won't release the scores until they come to some agreement. I'd love to see other kinds of score representations, like histograms showing the distribution of scores, but I'm pretty sure cut scores are baked into NCLB reporting requirements. Stories like this are a reminder that it's not the *test* that's potentially invalid, it's the *inferences* we make about the test that we have to worry about. There may not be right and wrong places to put cut scores, but some choices would be more sensible than others, and those choices do influence how people interpret scores.

$10 million rural aid bill advances one step

104 of Colorado's 178 districts have fewer than 1000 students, and 38 have only one administrator. If passed, a new bill would allow those districts to partner with boards of cooperative educational services and share services.

New Teachers' Academic Ability on the Rise, N.Y. Study Shows

The average combined math and verbal SAT scores of new teachers in New York state schools rose over the last decade, a new study finds.