Summer Help in Math

** Do your children need outside help in math?
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to see which skills are missing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Teachers Are Afraid To Speak Out

When I began researching education, the first people I went to for information were the teachers. They’re on the “front lines” of education; who better to enlighten me than the people working in the classrooms?

I discovered that many teachers are afraid to speak frankly to parents. They’re afraid of being disciplined, or even fired for “insubordination.” The ones who spoke with me tended to speak carefully, watching their words – almost as if the walls had ears or as if people were lurking around the corner.

Some teachers agreed to talk with me if we met outside of the classroom. Several told me they’d already been disciplined for talking with parents. One teacher talked with his lawyer before he talked with me. Almost all of them spoke on the condition of absolute anonymity. Three teachers began to talk with me, then decided the risks were too great to continue. Some agreed to give me the gist of their concerns, but they wouldn’t let me take notes or tape the conversation. Some teachers expressed sympathy for my project yet refused to talk about their experiences. A frequent explanation: “I just have a few more years to go to retirement. I can’t afford to get into trouble.”

This is a common theme elsewhere in the state and the country. Bob Dean, chair of the math department for Evergreen High School in Vancouver, WA, told me he’s familiar with the fears.

“When I discovered how reform mathematics was cheating our kids out of a proper education, I instantly became involved in trying to change that fact. I know that many teachers are afraid to speak out. …. I have seen gag orders put on teachers and intimidation used to silence them. Anyone who dares to challenge the latest educational fad is labeled reluctant, out of touch, and a non-team player.”

A Spokane high-school teacher told me he’d been disciplined – including verbal reprimands and a letter in his file – for telling parents he thought the district’s reform mathematics curricula wouldn’t adequately prepare students for college-level mathematics. He said he doesn’t believe administrators want his professional assessment of the system:

“Perhaps the most discouraging observation of the past eight years is that there is no longer a professional discussion of these and other problems regarding high stakes testing and related curriculum issues. Teachers of an ‘old school’ philosophy who are critical of the so called ‘fuzzy math’ and discovery based learning – both of which are used in support of the WASL – are vilified, ostracized and sometimes subject to disciplinary action. Techniques that work, like direct instruction and drill and practice of basic skills, are ridiculed and those that use them are seen as incompetent and ineffective teachers. … Collaboration has become coercion.”

But talking with parents about their child’s academic situation is part of a teacher’s job. When teachers don’t do it freely and forthrightly, children have lost an important ally, and parents have lost an essential element of public Accountability.

In February 2008, I interviewed Spokane Superintendent Nancy Stowell. I told her some teachers are worried they’ll receive bad evaluations or be fired for speaking frankly with parents. I added that some teachers believe they’ve been “disciplined” for activity they thought was warranted but that administrators saw as oppositional. This was her response:

“Well, no, it doesn’t surprise me that there are some people who would say that. Certainly, you know, (there is) a wide variety of teachers out there. Some of them very, very successful, and some less successful. And so, you know, people have issues along that continuum. And it’s really the responsibility of principals to work with staff that do have issues along that continuum.

“So if a teacher had an issue about either the math curriculum, or what he or she was teaching, or grade level, or any of that, I can understand that a principal would expect that it would be something the teacher and the principal would talk about rather than the teacher kind of going out there. Because it’s the principal who really knows the teacher, and how good the teacher is, and we all want, you know, excellent teachers.”

Dr. Stowell went on to say that “change is difficult,” and some teachers will embrace new ideas while others will be “more resistant.” Sometimes, she said, the problem can be that teachers “are just not wanting to change.” She said if they have good ideas, however, those ideas should be “shared.” She acknowledged that the district could “do a better job” of developing “feedback loops” as a way for teachers to communicate with coordinators.

To me, it sounds as though Dr. Stowell might be saying that teachers who intend to give parents their honest professional assessment of their child’s academic situation – including comments that could indicate weaknesses in the curricula, school policy or administration – might actually:
  • have other issues,
  • not be "successful" teachers anyway, or
  • just be resistant to change.

Parents, please be aware that – although teachers generally do their best every day in the classroom – many have concerns about being absolutely frank with parents.

Caveat emptor.

The best way to know how things are is to look at what your children know versus what they should know at their age. Have them professionally tested and assessed by people outside of the district. Speak with people who know which skills are required for the future your children envision for themselves. Take steps to fill in the gaps.

Don’t wait until your children are in Grade 12 or applying for college. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. At some point - sooner than you think - it will be too late.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Teachers are afraid to speak out." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was also posted November 5, 2008, on at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Public Accountability Missing in Education

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
-- John F. Kennedy

My philosophy toward authority generally centers around one word: Accountability. In my view, there are two main kinds of accountability: small “a” accountability and capital “A” accountability. In public education, there is a great deal of one and almost none of the other.

Small “a” accountability is accountability to the system. There are statistics, reports, numbers, factoids and figures. These numbers bounce around the organization, heading farther up the chain and occasionally shooting out to the public in the form of headlines. It’s possible that change takes place because of these numbers, but the public usually isn’t involved. The numbers are often supportive and positive about the overall effectiveness of the system.

Capital “A” Accountability is accountability to the public. Administrators speak the truth, even if it feels nasty to hear it or to say it. If things aren’t working, they say so. Employees are encouraged to speak freely and aren’t forced into silence nor bullied into compliance. People are held responsible for their actions and their performance. Records are made public. Pertinent information is welcomed. Administrators acknowledge their mistakes and learn from others. As long as the public remains engaged in capital “A” Accountability, then small “a” accountability is likely to follow.

Public education is a bureaucracy, however, and on the whole, bureaucracies tend to be impermeable and self-serving. In public education, the “public” has been purposefully blocked from the process. The establishment spends billions of dollars each year studying students, teachers, schools and families – dutifully reporting its picked-over version of reality and probably cutting down an entire rain forest of trees to publish the results. All the while, it fails to tell the public it’s in a dark place where high-school students drop out or require extensive remedial help before moving forward with their lives.

Capital “A” Accountability helps maintain corruption-free environments. Articulate, well-reasoned debate keeps the nation strong. I’m willing to fight for that.

In January 2007, I went to a Spokane Public Schools board meeting to ask about test scores. I was told politely that board meetings are business meetings and no discussion would take place. My name was passed to the superintendent, and the meeting went on without me. Later that month, I was invited to meet privately with the superintendent and curriculum director. There, I was told that everything was great – going so well that other states look to Washington for guidance.

In an October 2007 PTA meeting, I asked a Spokane school board member and the acting superintendent (Dr. Nancy Stowell) how parents have two-way conversations with the entire school board in a public forum. It can’t be done, PTA members were told, but we were invited to attend board meetings or to call board members at home. (But there is usually no discussion at Spokane school board meetings, and calling board members at home isn’t in public nor is it the entire board.)

I’ve asked several people if the public can ever have two-way conversations with the entire school board in a public setting, and the consistent answer is, “No.” Consider that the school board manages the budget, approves school policy and procedure, and engages in “community relations” (“Policies,” 1983). If “community relations” doesn’t mean “relating with the community,” then what does it mean?

In a February 2008 interview, Dr. Stowell acknowledged that students and parents don’t have many ways to be “engaged’ in the process.

In March 2008, in a rare display of “glasnost,” the school board invited the public to two forums regarding finalists for the position of district superintendent. One candidate was Dr. Stowell. The candidates had to answer questions publicly (although no follow-up questions were allowed). My question was: How do we get more public forums?

Dr. Stowell laughed a bit when she said, “Well, we aren’t doing this again!” Then she said she supported the concept of better communication between the district and the parents. She asked the group for ideas.

Here’s my idea (which I’ve technically passed on to her three times – four if she reads this blog). Have more forums. Listen to questions, answer the questions, listen to follow-up questions and answer those. Administrators should do it because it’s respectful. Mostly, they should do it because it’s their role in providing capital “A” Accountability.

I wish I could tell you how board members answered public questions at those two forums, but none did. They milled around the edges of the group, talking privately with individuals.

In a September 2008 “online chat,” I asked Dr. Stowell again about “creating opportunities” for the public to communicate with administrators and the school board. Board meetings are insufficient, I said, since discussions usually don’t take place, and private meetings are insufficient since they aren’t in public.

Dr. Stowell repeated that I could attend school board meetings. She added that board members sometimes go into the public “to solicit input” on topics such as bond projects and the budget.

In October, public meetings were held to discuss bond issues. The format was a presentation followed by small-group discussions. I asked the district’s director of communications and community relations if I could go to the forums and ask questions that are unrelated to bond issues. She said the forums were just for bond issues, but that I could take my questions to a school board meeting or I could make an appointment with an administrator.

And there you have it. Over 22 months, I have come full circle, and I have gotten nowhere at all.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Public accountability missing in education." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article has also been posted on at

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Parents Can't Get Answers to Questions

Every few months, Spokane Public Schools hosts an online “chat” where parents can “Ask the Superintendent” some questions. The questions and replies are posted on the district’s Web site. In October, a parent sent me his question and the district’s response (which actually came from the district’s secondary mathematics coordinator). His question and the emailed reply were not posted on the district’s Web site.

The parent wrote that his son was getting As in math “without even trying.” He was worried that the program wouldn’t get his son to college. He had spoken with math professors and other concerned parents, he said, and he asked the district to survey parents.

The mathematics coordinator, Rick Biggerstaff, didn’t address the request for a survey. The bolded comments below are drawn from his response; the comments in parentheses are mine:

Enrollment in Advanced Placement classes is increasing, and Spokane “statistically performs very well on the AP exam.”
(AP enrollment statewide is increasing, but lower percentages of students pass AP exams.)

“We do not see our high-achieving students leaving with ‘less’ math than before.”
(What does “before” mean? The current incarnation of reform mathematics was spawned in the 1980s.)

The math standards have “changed 3 times in 5 years.” Spokane’s current math curricula are still aligned with old state learning standards.
(Trying to align reform curricula with constantly changing reform-based standards is like pinning an expensive inadequate tail on a moving inadequate donkey. Who cares if they’re aligned?)

A review of whether current curricula align with the new math standards must wait until January.
(Translation: Don’t hold your breath waiting for better curricula.)

The “level of cognitive engagement in our classrooms” is more important than whether mathematics is presented with a traditional or reform method.
(How math is presented is critically important. Forcing children to reinvent math – as opposed to just teaching it to them – is illogical, time-consuming and ineffective. The children end up “cognitively engaging” about incorrect ideas.)

The district doesn’t plan to change its policy of “student-centered” classrooms, “regardless of content strands set in place by the state.”
(Regardless of what anyone says or does, the district will support constructivist “teaching” methods, where students work in groups to teach math to themselves. Apparently, it does matter which teaching method is used.)

Meanwhile, the parent’s concerns were not addressed.

The entire education establishment is adept at dismissing parent and teacher concerns. (in Maryland) posted an article called “Tactics Used to Maintain the Status Quo.” They generously allowed me to excerpt:

Tactic #1: Tell parents that “You are the only one who complained.”
Tactic #2: Claim that “The research shows that what we are doing is best.”
Tactic #3: “We are the experts. You should trust us to know better than you.”
Tactic #4: Claim that children will suffer if the budget is not significantly increased.
Tactic #5: Accuse critics and parents who ask too many questions of being “against public education.”
Tactic #6: Claim that (the district) is prevented from making changes by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Tactic #7: Avoid taking actions to change the system by ignoring good ideas.
(You can read the entire FrederickEducationReform article on their Web site. The link is noted at the bottom of this article.)

Here Are Other Things I’ve Actually Heard
From the Education Establishment in Spokane and Washington State

  • It’s “elitist” to say that children achieve at different levels, to have programs for the highly capable, or to form classes for similar types of learners.
  • Parents only want a traditional approach because it’s what they had as children. Students find it boring and would rather “discover” thousands of years of math in groups and by inventing their own concepts and methods.
  • Not all children can learn traditional math. Having everyone learn “alternative” methods first gives them “something to fall back on.”
  • People who complain about reform math just “don’t get it.” For example:
    • Parents aren't math smart. They’re obstructionist and stuck in the past.
    • Teachers have their own “issues.” They might not be all that talented.
    • Students have lousy upbringings, raging hormones, short attention spans and poor priorities. Math might not be their strongest subject.
    • Engineers don’t know how to communicate, and math professors don’t know how to teach to children.
    • Advocates are extremist and hypercritical. They have a “hidden” agenda.
  • Parents are not qualified to comment on curriculum choices, but curriculum coordinators who have an education degree and a minor in the specific subject are qualified.
  • Statistics show that things are getting better. We’re upping enrollment in “honors” classes, increasing the “rigor,” “raising the bar” and moving to “the next step.” We’re doing so well, other states look to us for guidance.
  • We don’t need to worry about the highly capable students because they’ll learn anyway. They can work in groups with the struggling students – not to “teach” them, but just to “show” them how to do things.
  • No one needs to learn algebra because not everyone will go to college.
  • Students can pick up any algebra they need in Grade 11 or 12.
  • 60% pass rates might be good depending on where the group began.
  • Children need “21st-century math.” Calculators and computers help them learn math and can even take the place of long division and other arithmetic.
  • We can fix everything with billions more dollars for incentives, technology, instructional coaches, teacher development and initiatives for the disadvantaged.
  • We listen to all feedback. Parents can:
    • present questions at board meetings. (The board doesn’t have to answer questions at board meetings.)
    • talk to administrators. (Administrators politely say everything is fine.)
    • talk with their child’s teacher. (Some teachers are afraid to be frank, or they’re politically careful, or they're too busy to see the whole picture.)
    • talk with principals. (Ditto.)

      I've been asking questions in this district for 22 months, and I have more questions now than when I began. I'd really like to start getting some answers.

      Please note: The information in this post (except for the FrederickEducationReform excerpt) is copyrighted to Laurie H. Rogers. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Parents can't get answers to questions." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

      A portion of this article has also been posted on at

      (You can enjoy the entire FrederickEducationReform article at: "Tactics Used To Maintain the Status Quo" If you wish to use the information in the excerpt or any other information from that Web site, please direct your permission request to the operators of that site.)

      Tuesday, October 14, 2008

      Education Flux is Barrier to Truth

      Across the country, education is in flux. Standards are being revised; curricula are being chosen, replaced, supplemented and developed; tests are being revised, delayed or kicked out completely; and teachers are being trained and retrained.

      The curriculum spaghetti being tossed against the wall in Spokane Public Schools, for example, is an ongoing stream of programs, supplementary materials and changes in procedure. Even as the state revised its math standards in 2007-2008 and reviewed several mathematics curricula in 2008, this district was changing its materials for the 2008-2009 school year and planning more changes for 2009-2010.

      Today, a district administrator told me that parents aren’t asked for input on district curricula because they don’t have the background required to offer informed input.

      (It’s too bad none of the parents in the district ever went to college; ran a business; tutored children; became engineers, mathematicians, writers, teachers, professors or tradespeople … Any of that would have been so helpful.)

      In January 2007, an administrator told me the math situation was poised to improve. She said there was a “transition period” from traditional curricula to reform curricula, and once the students had done the entire K-12 program in reform math, things would turn around. The implication? Parents should just accept that their younger children will be more successful than their older children.

      (Ironically, considering the inherently flawed nature of reform mathematics, the younger children might indeed be more "successful" -- with less knowledge.)

      Surely local administrators would agree that public education is broken. I’ve not heard any of them say it publicly, but you’d have to be clueless to not know it. Just look at the:

      • constant changes in standards, curricula and supplementary materials;
      • consistently poor test scores, high remediation rates, high dropout rates, and dropping enrollment over the last five years (other than in kindergarten);
      • truckloads of money spent annually on testing alternatives, teacher development and instructional coaches;
      • booming enrollment in private schools, alternative programs and homeschooling

      Hey, here’s a question. What happens to the students still in the public-education system? As administrators make changes and things fall in and out of alignment, the children continue to go through a system that isn’t providing them with the skills they need. Shouldn’t administrators tell somebody?

      Remember the classic episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy and Ethel were working in a chocolate factory? Their job was to wrap chocolates and put them back on the conveyor belt, which would then take the wrapped chocolates to the boxing area. Lucy and Ethel were warned that if even one chocolate went by unwrapped, they would be fired. Initially, everything went well, but before long, the belt was moving too fast, the chocolates were coming by too quickly, and they couldn’t keep up. In a panic, they began stuffing chocolates in their mouth. When they heard the supervisor coming, they got rid of the chocolates in whichever way they could – in their mouth, down their shirt and even in their hat. When she came in, the supervisor didn’t see what Ethel and Lucy had done. All she saw was that there weren’t any chocolates on the belt. She praised them for their good work and called out for the conveyor belt to go faster.

      Children in American public schools are like those chocolates. They’re being sent down the conveyor belt before they’ve been properly wrapped. Workers hide unwrapped chocolates in their hat as supervisors call out for the belt to go faster. As administrators analyze, review and make decisions, the unwrapped chocolates either fall on the floor or wend their way to their graduation boxes. Collectively, the establishment put children on this conveyor belt and appears to still reject warnings of problems.

      When 40-60% of consumers purchase a product that doesn’t do what manufacturers say it will, there are recalls, public notices, health alerts, class-action lawsuits and scandal. There might even be criminal charges. But with these unwrapped chocolates, there’s just: “Well, let’s wait and see.” Administrators should be issuing alerts and figuring out how they’ll fill in the gaps in knowledge before students try to graduate.

      When will administrators take responsibility for the unwrapped chocolates? Remedial programs aren't standard or “equal.” Gifted and alternative programs can take only so many students. Some classes will get funds for aides and assistants, and some won’t. Some principals will deal with student challenges, and some won’t. Some struggling students will be helped, and some won’t. Some children have parents who can help them, and many do not. So how do we go about fixing these inequalities?

      The administrators know the current math standards aren’t clear. They’ve said there needs to be more content. They’re making plans to change things. But for the children already in the system? Ah, well. Shhh.

      Who will tell parents the reality of it – out loud, in terms that everyone can understand? Advocates will tell you. Like this:

      Dear Parent:

      You have been sold a product that a large body of evidence indicates is defective. On its own, it’s unlikely to adequately prepare your children for post-secondary life. Administrators are busy making changes that they hope will fix everything. Every time they make system-wide changes, the long-term effect again becomes a complete mystery, thereby preventing you from assessing the changes or determining their efficacy.

      As a consequence, you might not know if your children require remedial classes until they test into them after high school or drop out in frustration. Therefore, your children might benefit now from supplementary work, remedial work and/or tutoring.

      You can find out from independent, knowledgeable sources what your children should be learning in math, science and English. Singapore Math and Saxon Math have free online assessments, for example, that your children can take so you can determine where they are in knowledge and skill. If you can afford it, you can have them professionally tested. You can talk to college professors and counselors, tradespeople, businesspeople and tutors about which skills are necessary for post-secondary life. You can find ways to help your children catch up.

      You also might want to look into supplemental programs and resources for subjects that aren’t covered well in the schools, such as civics, history, economics, forensics, second languages, social studies, art, music, gym, geography, ethics and communication.

      P.S. You might want to start the process before the rush begins.

      Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Education flux is barrier to truth." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

      This article was also posted Oct. 15 on at

      Thursday, October 9, 2008

      Free Math Tutoring at Gonzaga

      I would like to tell parents about a Spokane mathematics tutoring program, currently held at Gonzaga University during both semesters of the school year. It’s held on Saturdays, about three times a month, from 10-11:30 a.m.

      The tutors are handpicked engineering and mathematics students from Gonzaga. The program is geared toward students in grades 3-12, and they will take anyone (from any school district) who can make it there.

      The tutoring is done individually or in groups of two or three. This is not a classroom format, so it’s tailored to meet individual students’ needs. The tutors will teach the students anything they need to learn, but the goal is to teach them the mathematics they’ll need for the future they envision for themselves.

      I would like to take a moment to mention again that the main math curricula in Spokane Public Schools are reform curricula: “Bridges,” “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” “Connected Mathematics” and “Core-Plus Mathematics.” Mathematicians and math advocates have criticized reform curricula, especially these ones, for their lack of rigor and clarity and their illogical approach to the subject. If your children take solely reform classes – and without some sort of intervention, remediation or tutoring – they are likely to require costly intervention before they begin college classes, a trade, or a job requiring any sort of arithmetic.

      I encourage you to speak with people who are well trained in actual mathematics. You also can look through this blog, specifically these articles:

      Birth of reform = Demise of Math Skills
      The "Laws" of Learning
      What's Wrong With Public Education?

      The Gonzaga tutoring program is run at no cost to parents. The organizers ask only that if you sign up, then you make sure your children are there. Space is limited, and the tutors are volunteering their time.

      If you’re interested in this program, please call Andrew Holguin at 998-7752.

      Wednesday, October 8, 2008

      The "Laws" of Learning

      A central tenet of reform mathematics and constructivist teaching is that children should work cooperatively in groups to “explore” and “discover” math and figure out concepts on their own. Reformers say this method makes math interesting and fun and leads to “deeper understanding.”

      Jayne Sherman, a teacher in Prince Williams County, Va., and parent of four children, said the reform program "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space" was getting her students to “think mathematically” (Sherman, 2008).

      “Using the inquiry method of learning, children explore, discover and articulate their thinking,” she said. Her students supposedly discover “many strategies to solve problems.” They communicate and collaborate with each other, sharing their thinking and becoming “math literate, all while having fun.” They “make their own representations to solve problems.”

      Sherman summed up her feelings by taking a poke at traditionalists: “The traditional approach to teaching no longer serves our students.”

      I’m not sure how much fun this process actually is for the students, who tend to be concrete thinkers and who generally appreciate straightforward, logical approaches to learning. Experimentation in groups can be fun for them, but I suspect they’d rather it come in small doses. Otherwise, they can become stressed out trying to teach themselves 5,000 years of math in the small snippets of time they have available to them.

      I was thinking about this while reading an Air Force training manual from 1974 called “Principles and Techniques of Instruction.” The manual is old, its cover is lost, and the pages are yellowed. It’s been around the block – well, around the world, actually. It contains much valuable information about teaching, learning, leadership, ethics, guidance, counseling and critiquing effectively – all presented in an incredibly concise, straightforward, readable and accessible format.

      As I read through this manual, I caught myself nodding my head in agreement, saying at one point to the cat, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!” According to this manual, there are six basic "Laws" of Learning. If I were a proponent of reform mathematics, I could see myself using three of them to support my approach:

      The Law of Effect – “learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling”
      The Law of Intensity – “a vivid, dramatic, or exciting learning experience teaches more (information) than a routine or boring experience (does)”
      The Law of Readiness – “a person learns best when he or she is ready to learn”

      Proponents of reform mathematics could argue that those three laws support their approach: Keep it pleasant, keep it exciting, and for heaven’s sake, keep it simple. But I think those three laws actually support the other three:

      The Law of Primacy - People tend to draw on the skills they learned first:

      “Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakeable, impression. For the instructor, this means that what he teaches must be correct the first time. For the student, it means that his learning must be correct. Unteaching is more difficult than teaching … The student’s first experience should be positive and functional in preparation for what follows” (“Principles,” 1974).

      Therefore, teachers of mathematics should want students to learn math processes properly the first time – in the most efficient, most effective and most precise way possible. Teaching them mathematics as reformers do – by asking them to muddle around in herds – is inefficient, ineffective, unpleasant and ultimately counterproductive.

      The Law of Exercise – Practicing a concept is critical to learning it.

      “Things most often repeated are best remembered. It is the basis of practice and drill… The mind can rarely retain, evaluate, and apply new concepts or practices after a single exposure. A student … learns by applying what he has been told, and, every time he practices, his learning continues … Repetition consists of many types of activities, including recall, review, restatement, manual drill, and physical application.”

      Proponents of reform, however, have called this practice “drill and kill” and tossed it under a bus. To reformers, practicing is “rote” and “boring.” It’s an odd attitude to have about something we all do when we want to learn anything of value.

      The Law of Recency – The longer we go without practicing a new concept, the easier it is for us to forget it.

      “Other things being equal, the things most recently learned are best remembered, while the things learned some time ago are remembered with more difficulty.”

      This law conflicts entirely with the “spiral” technique – so common in reform mathematics – where teachers briefly touch on a new concept, don't give their students the opportunity to practice it, and then present the concept again some time later (often with a new twist).

      The Air Force training manual is old, and it’s probably been revised since 1974, but I like it. As a tutor, this is what I take away from these six "Laws" of Learning:

      1. Make sure students are ready for the lesson.
      2. Prepare an experience that they’ll enjoy.
      3. Teach students the most efficient, most effective methods first.
      4. Make the lesson exciting.
      5. Have students practice the lesson.
      6. Build on recently learned concepts.

      This approach makes sense to me. Apparently, there is much to be learned from the things we used to know.

      Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "The "Laws" of Learning." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

      This article was also published October 9, 2008, in at

      Thursday, October 2, 2008

      What's Wrong with Public Education?

      Public-education statistics often tell us scores are going up and things are getting better. It's a false impression. Scores might be going up, but public-school students are not being well educated.

    • The dizzying downward spirals of skills in science, technology, engineering and math are jeopardizing students’ futures and the nation’s stability.
    • Many of the people who built this failing education system make money off of it as it crumbles around our ears.
    • Most of the people in the education establishment refuse to engage in this conversation (leaving students and parents to work it out on their own).
      • Of the rest, most neatly sidestep any blame for the tragedy as they foist blame on parents, teachers, money, legislators, society, hormones (yes, I've actually heard that), and the students themselves.
      • Just a handful will try to warn you of this education apocalypse. Some of those brave souls have been censured, reprimanded or fired.

      There is much about American public education that is right.

      One thing that's right is that this country intends to educate everybody equally (both genders, all income levels, all ranges of ability, and all ethnicities, religions, races and backgrounds). This is noteworthy and admirable in a world where these attitudes aren’t universally held.

      Additionally, many educators honestly try to figure out how the system could be made better. Conscientious teachers, principals, parents and school staff spend their days working on behalf of the students. They get the paperwork done, are friendly to students, and come up with new, heart-warming, esteem-building programs.

      Sadly, much about American public education is all wrong.

      Across the country, however, a philosophy of teaching has taken a stranglehold on K-12 education. It’s been sewn into the fabric of teacher education and forced into the nation’s schools and classrooms and down the throats of the principals and teachers. This philosophy says it encourages new ways of thinking, and yet for years has been practically closed to anything perceived as oppositional, and systematically blind and deaf to contrary views. It values self-esteem over achievement, effort over success, and consistent results by everyone (regardless of how mediocre) over uneven results that include brilliance by some.

      In American education, it’s become normal and acceptable to say that children naturally struggle with math or reading, don’t understand science or just aren’t that good in school. Before students ever have a chance to think it, administrators have thought it, said it, accepted it and incorporated it into the standards, watering them down so they aren’t so hard. Those watered-down standards are ably represented in various packaged curricula that value collective effort over individual achievement.

      Students must learn the same things in the same way with the same packaged curriculum, and they must all get to the same place at the same time so they can all pass the same tests on the same day. Academic gifts are cherished in theory yet often discouraged in practice. Superior talents of any sort are frequently not given room to shine.

      Ironically, this system that is built almost entirely on the concept of self-esteem is actually the antithesis of self-esteem, having produced an entire generation of children who can’t cope with basic academic skills. It’s also the antithesis of excellence, competitiveness and innovation.

      Public-school students struggle to do basic mathematical, scientific or literary activities that are reasonable for their age. Many elementary-school students are not progressing from addition to multiplication; some never progress from adding on their fingers. Many middle-school students can’t consistently multiply in vertical formats, do long division, or convert fractions into decimals. Many can’t read at grade level. Subjects other than literacy and mathematics – such as civics, history, economics, forensics, second languages, social studies, art, music, gym, geography, ethics and communication – are given short shrift or have been eliminated completely.

      High-school students are dropping out at unacceptable rates, or they’re graduating without the basic skills they need to go to college, vocational school, the military or the work place. Up to 50% of high-school graduates must take remedial classes before beginning their post-secondary life.

      All of this is before we start talking about the gazillions of taxpayer dollars that are spent every year on state standardized tests that 40-80% of students cannot pass the first time around.

      As a consequence, an increasing number of parents perceive public school as inadequate. Some are choosing to supplement the regular program. Others are leaving public school entirely – sending their children to private schools, alternative schools or private tutors. More and more of them are making the weighty choice to teach their children at home.

      Oddly, even as these families disappear from public schools, education professionals seem to have a really hard time saying that anything is wrong.

      • Even as students fail to learn basic skills (evidenced by dismal scores on state, national and international standardized tests and evaluations), these administrators deny that children aren’t getting what they need from public schools.
      • Even as families disappear from public schools, and the numbers of privately educated and home-schooled students increase, administrators deny that families are disgruntled by the failed programs and are voting with their feet.
      • Even as engineers, giants of industry, mathematicians and college and university math professors speak out against certain math programs, and even as standards and curricula are reviewed and modified, administrators deny that math programs are flawed.
      • Even as dropout rates, remediation rates and scores from various national and international studies indicate that students are not becoming academically proficient, administrators issue reams of numbers as “proof” that they are.

      The education establishment is insular, the issues are major, and the philosophies are ingrained. Ego, money and social engineering agendas have been big parts of the problem. In all of the data floating around the public arena, there is very little actual truth. There is, however, a great deal of money being made.

      This article is intended to help provide context for articles you will see on this blog.

      Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "What's Wrong with Public Education?" Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

    • Wednesday, October 1, 2008

      The WASL: A Tale of Hidden Costs

      Updated February 5, 2009:

      By any measure, Washington State’s standardized tests (the WASL) are "spendy." Their true costs are tricky to figure. There are initial development costs and ongoing costs in management, printing, shipping, scoring and reporting. There are costs at the district, state and federal levels.

      There are also costs in lost time for instruction and learning. As students take time to prepare and take the tests, they tend to not focus on new learning. Students who already passed the tests or some acceptable alternative might be left to themselves to study, work on other projects or sleep late.

      On April 15, 2008, I submitted a request for public records, asking the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for the WASL's total cost. On June 10, I received some of the data.

      In state dollars, $106,034,379 was spent from 1995 to 2008 for just the WASL itself. In federal dollars, another $42,966,026 was spent from 2003-2008. These figures do not include the contracts, the Listening tests in 2002/2003 or alternatives to the WASL (such as the Segmented Math course or the collections of evidence). They also don’t include district costs; OSPI says that data isn't available.

      But the data is available; someone just has to collect it. I asked Neil Sullivan, Spokane Public Schools executive director of finance, for this district’s WASL costs. He and district staff calculated direct per-student costs at about $4.60. Using this figure as a rough guideline, it amounts to an extra $4.7 million annually statewide. (Not included are indirect costs.)

      OSPI estimated costs for the next four years at $114,991,939 and federal costs at $33,244,000. Again, these numbers are for just the WASL, and they exclude district costs. OSPI has estimated the 2007 per-test cost (for just the state share) at $17.77. Its June 11 figures put it at $17.05. (Either figure is a fraction of the total cost.)

      On August 1, after more requests, OSPI finally gave me these costs:
      · The WAAS: 2001-2005: $1,475,037; and from 2006-2012: $2,312,665
      · The collection of evidence (COE): Three-year total: $5,692,000
      · Contract to Riverside Publishing: $55.4 million over 5 years
      · Contract to Pearson Educational Measurement: $78.2 million over 6 years

      One day after the November 2008 elections, I finally received information on the five new testing contracts. They total $164.5 million over 4 years. Here’s the breakdown:

      • $ 374,861 to Assessment and Evaluation Services for the period 8/1/2008 to 12/31/2010. The scope of work includes coordination of quality control work efforts.
      • $131,193,205 to Data Recognition Corporation for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes testing operations, scoring and reporting, translations, teacher development.
      • $ 8,388,699 to Educational Service District 113 for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Collection of Evidence (alternative to the WASL).
      • $ 18,275,563 to Educational Testing Service for the period 7/21/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes assisting with work efforts associated with item and test development, and coordination of professional development.
      • $ 6,592,350 to Measured Progress for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Washington Alternate Assessment System Portfolio.

      I’ve looked on the OSPI Web site for the information about the five latest contracts. I’ve waited for it to be disseminated in the Washington media. It wasn't in the state superintendent's Nov. 21 State of Education address. I found out about the contracts because I gave OSPI a formal request for public information.

      Essentially, OSPI signed away $164.5 million in taxpayer money on contracts the public has repeatedly said it doesn’t want. This might have been hubris. They might have felt locked into doing it. Or, it might have been a final, poisonous pill. Regardless, the contracts are signed. The money is committed. Unless the contracts can be broken, say goodbye to that money, folks.

      In 2006, Dr. Donald Orlich, professor emeritus of the Science Mathematics Engineering Education Center at Washington State University in Pullman, estimated total direct costs of the WASL at about $207 million. Assuming that about 5% of the school year is spent on preparing for and administering the WASL, he estimated an additional $100 million spent annually on costs related to salaries and lost instruction and learning time. That was in 2006. There’s been a lot of money under the bridge since then.

      In 2008, the Washington Education Association estimated annual costs (including district costs) at $114 million per year.

      ($100 million here, $100 million there – pretty soon you’re talking real money.)

      The budget to administer the WASL in 2009 was set at $22 million, but in March 2008, the media reported that OSPI estimates had increased by $15 to $25 million, making the total cost in 2009 for just one year of tests to be anywhere from $37 to $47 million. Following public and legislative criticism, the state agreed to shorten some tests and cut back on open-ended questions, thus lowering the cost. As of June 11, OSPI estimated state costs for the WASL for the 2008-2009 school year at $32,614,000, plus $9,436,000 from the federal government.
      (Again, not included are WASL alternatives or district costs.)

      By the way, the second WASL contract went to Pearson Educational Measurement, which is part of Pearson Education, Inc., which offers math curricula, including Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall products, TERC's "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space," "MCP Mathematics," "Beyond Arithmetic," and "Connected Mathematics."

      Ah, it’s good to be Pearson Education, Inc.

      Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "The WASL: A tale of hidden costs." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: