“Math for America” teachers meet with some members Congress and apparently give them some sound advice

During the First National Math Festival here in DC (which I missed), back in April, some Math for America – DC* teachers I know were invited to speak with some Congressmen and Senators. According to the press release I was recently given, my colleagues appear to have given the elected reps** sound advice that may or may not be heeded.

{** including Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Shumer, Al Franken, Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray, Steny Hoyer, among others}

I quote from the press release, in green and my own comments in black:

“House and Senate leaders, field experts, and MfA DC teachers spent the first hour and a half engaging in dialogue on how the ESEA reauthorization would affect the classroom. Joe Herbert spoke to the adverse effects standardized tests had had on his school and his classroom. David Tansey, a[n] MfA DC Master Teacher, offered criteria that such tests should meet in order to provide instructional value to the teacher and the student.”

{notice the clear implication, which Tansey has spelled out to me in detail on several occasions, that the standardized tests that he and his school are required to administer many, many times a year are of absolutely no use to teachers in figuring out how to help their students learn more stuff, better.}

“Joe Herbert wrote, ‘I spoke of the harmful effects of standardized testing on K-12 education, and of the complete lack of statistical basis for evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores.'”

While Max Mikulec, one of the other teachers, was initially somewhat awestruck by listening to amusing anecdotes from Senator Al Franken, he …

“…went on to say, ‘As I reflected on the day, my initial reaction of pride and hope turned into a feeling of skepticism and apprehension. You cannot imagine how great I would feel if the nation spent billions more dollars developing math education and math teachers. However, I do not see this happening in an effective way. There are endless debates over what standards should be taught in our schools and what the kids should be tested on. Amid all of the debates, the ones who are losing here are the nation’s kids. In their most formative years, a time where they struggle to find any consistency in their own lives, they are being let down by an educational system that will change several times before they graduate high school. Ev en though all of these powerful and important people say that they support math education and that [they] see math teaching as a real profession, I will not believe them until something is actually done to show their support.'”

In addition, Joe Herbert wrote me the following:

“Another point I made is just how much money gets wasted on these tests. I don’t remember the exact number now, but I looked up how much is spent annually on testing before I went to the event (I remember the number was in the billions), and I made the point that we could increase spending on education by that much money without raising taxes a penny if we got rid of the annual testing mandate in NCLB.

“I know that many liberal groups have been proponents of annual testing because it sheds light on the achievement gap. I noted that NAEP provides these same types of data, but does so using statistical sampling so that we don’t have to test every kid every year.”


*Note: MfA and MfA-DC are as far from the TFA idea as it is possible to be. Unlike ‘Teach for Awhile”, MFA actually gives its members a FULL YEAR of math-content and math-pedagogy classes and student teaching experience, assigns them a mentor, and in return expects them to stay in the city, teaching, in their field for a full five years, and does not pretend to have a one-size-fits-all “no excuses” magic wand that will miraculously reproduce the irreproducible miracle that Michelle Rhree pretended to achieve at Harlem Park Elementary in Baltimore in the early 1990s, magically moving 90% of her students from below the 13th percentile to being over the 90th percentile. Right now, MfA DC teachers are some of the most senior math teachers anywhere in DC, either in the regular public schools or charter schools.

Is there really a STEM shortage? And do we want to emulate China or Korea?

You have all heard the mantra that we don’t have enough young people studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and that is the reason that so many Americans are doing poorly.  If you agree with this call, this article in the New York Review of Books might make you think about the subject differently.

A few important points:

(1) The United States graduates way more engineers and scientists every year than can ever hope to get a job in their fields.

(2) As a result, large percentages of STEM graduates do not work in their chosen field

(3) As part of their profit-maximization strategy, tech giants like Microsoft nonetheless encourage this glut of STEM applicants while at the same time complaining that they need to hire foreigners on H1B visas, who earn on average about 57% of what a similarly-qualified American worker makes.

(4) While many, many American high school students fully plan to go into a STEM field in college, many are discouraged by poor teaching at the college level — even the instructors at elite STEM universities like CalTech get low marks from their students. And many of the instructors are, in fact, themselves temporary workers, neither full professors nor having any hope of tenure…

(5) The article also looks at Korean and Chinese school systems. It is true that they are producing tremendous test-takers and lots of engineers. But do we really want our children attending day and night classes every night until 10 pm, and what would we do with all of those unemployed future engineers anyway?

A few excerpts from the article, which reviews several books and documents:

“A 2014 study by the National Science Board found that of 19.5 million holders of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, only 5.4 million were working in those fields, and a good question is what they do instead. The Center for Economic Policy and Research, tracing graduates from 2010 through 2014, discovered that 28 percent of engineers and 38 percent of computer scientists were either unemployed or holding jobs that did not need their training

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its latest Occupational Outlook Handbook, forecasts that by 2022 the economy will have 22,700 nonacademic openings for physicists. Yet during the preceding decade 49,700 people will have graduated with physics degrees. The anomaly is that those urging students toward STEM studies are not pressing employers to ensure that the jobs will be there. And as we shall see, the employers often turn to foreign workers for the jobs they have to fill.

“Among the high school seniors who took the ACT and SAT tests last year, fully 23 percent said that they intended to major in mathematics, computer science, engineering, or a physical or natural science. And those contemplating programs related to health made up another 19 percent. But something evidently happens between their freshman and senior years. By graduation, the number of students who start in STEM fields falls by a third and in health by a half. In engineering, of every one hundred who start, only fifty-five make it to a degree.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 10:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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Temps Who Have Never Taught are Grading Common Core Tests

Makoto Rich of the New York Times, Peter Greene of Curmudgacation, and Diane Ravitch all discuss the way that Pearson is running the scoring of the Common Core tests, employing temporary employees who have never taught, at $12-14 per hour, with of course no benefits.

If you’ve worked in a mass-chain fast-food joint, then you know what Pearson wants: mindless uniformity. Isn’t that what parents and kids really, really want from our public schools?

Here’s the link.

A Quick Look at the National Academy of Science report on Mayoral Control of Schools in Washington DC

Last week, the National Academy of Science released a very long report assessing the progress (or lack of it) of the education of young people in Washington DC under mayoral control in both the regular public schools and in the charter schools.


The picture isn’t pretty, as Candi Peterson has pointed out.


Here are my major conclusions:

1. Mayoral control of schools has been a spectacular failure if you care anything about reducing the gaps between achievement levels of white students and those of color, the poor, special ed students, and English language learners (i.e. immigrants). The gaps between the pass rates on the DC-CAS standardized tests of those groups under mayoral control or the PERAA (Public Education Reform Amendment Act) are enormous and have essentially remained unchanged since 2007, when the law was implemented, according to the data in this report. Note that the report combines the data for both the DC public schools and charter schools, combined, at all grade levels, in both reading and math. Here are two graphs, made by me from data in the report, which show the lack of change. I estimated the percentage of students ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in each of the groups (whites, blacks, hispanics, students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, English language learners, and special education students) from graphs provided by the report, and then subtracted the pass rates from each other. HIGH NUMBERS ARE BAD because they show large gaps in proficiency rates. Low numbers are good. Notice that there has been almost no change since mayoral control; some lines go up a tiny bit, some go down a bit, others waver back and forth a bit. Not a success story.
gap[s under mayoral control, math, dc-cas, acc to NAP report on PERAAgaps under mayoral control, reading, acc to national academies press
2. Ratings for teachers remain very much dependent on what students they teach. Many millions of dollars and enormous effort has been spent to devise supposedly scientific ways of measuring teacher effectiveness — i.e. VAM and IMPACT. Every single teacher remaining in DCPS has either been hired under Their Chancellorships or has been repeatedly measured as efffective or better. Yet the ratings for teachers at schools with high poverty rates, and in wards 7 and 8, remain much lower than those at schools with low poverty rates and in ward 3. Repeat: these low-ranked teachers are not holdovers from the ‘bad old days’ – they are either brand-new hires or have been repeatedly measured as good or excellent under IMPACT. (One bit of data: at my last school, from which I retired 5 years ago and which has over 100 faculty and administrators, only about 5 or 6 teachers remain from my time there.) I copied these two tables directly from the report:
teac her ratings under IMPACT, by ward teacher ratings under impact by ses
3. Now that we have 60-odd publicly-funded local school districts in Washington DC, most of which [the charter schools] are not required to provide much of anything in the way of data, we no longer have any effective way of saying what are good practices and which are poor practices, because we have no city-wide way of describing what is going on.
4. The report generally omits any data from before 2007, and in some cases before 2009, which makes it hard to compare pre-mayoral control and post-MC. The exceptions are with some NAEP data, in which it is clear that any progress post-PERAA is indistinguishable from progress before PERAA. See these four graphs, which could have been taken from my blog but are again from the National Academy of Science report (I added the stuff in red for emphasis):
pre-post mayoral control naep scores 4th grade math pre-post mayoral control naep scores 4th grade reading pre-post mayoral control naep scores 8th grade math pre-post mayoral control naep scores 8th grade reading
5. The report totally omits the contractual obligations entered into by Rhee and Henderson with the Broad, Arnold and other foundations back in 2007 when they laid out 60-some goals they said they would meet by 2014. As you may recall from looking at my blog or what Erich Martel wrote on the topic, their success rate in meeting those goals (regarding things like NAEP and CAS scores for the most part) was approximately TWO PERCENT. Not 20%. But 2%. And I was being generous.
6. Finally, despite all the really damning data in the report, I predict that the Washington Post and others of their mindset will proclaim that it shows that mayoral control has been a wonderful success.
PS, here is the link so that you can download your own copy of the 341-page report:

Somber advice from a retired Special Forces sergeant on joining the military

Bob Goff is a retired US Army special forces sergeant who served in eight different overseas combat operations – alphabetically, they were Colombia, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, Somalia, and Vietnam. Five different times he raised his right hand to take an oath to defend the US Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

However, in none of those countries did he meet a single person who was opposed to the US Constitution, or even to its principles.

Instead, he found himself fighting to defend the interests of American transnational corporations and to maintain American military and political supremacy around the world.

He has a short YouTube interview, which you can see here:


I thought his talk was of enough use to be transcribed, so I’ve done that. I had never heard of him before, but apparently after serving in Vietnam, he became quite disillusioned with the goals and purposes of American military adventures overseas and became and continued to be quite an activist, even as he continued to serve, off and on, mostly in the Special Forces branch of the army. He has even written several books and is apparently now some sort of a Christian socialist.

Here are some of his books, which you can look up:

  1. Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century 
  2. Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church
  3.  Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti
  4. Sex & War
  5. Energy War: Exterminism for the 21st Century

I transcribed his interview here:


Advice from Stan Goff, US Army Special Forces veteran, for those considering joining the military

My transcription of what he said (with most of the ‘um’s and ‘you know’s edited out, and a phrase or two inserted in brackets for clarity)

I say this to my own kids. I’ve got one in the Army and I’ve got another one thinking about it. I know it’s a tough economic choice today. I know the jobs such and I know school is too expensive for a lot of people. I know they make it [military service] attractive but you have to  continue to remember what it is that they are doing. That organization [US military] does not exist to give you money for school. That organization exists to assert the political will of the United Sates government against other people by force of arms, and what they do is not like it’s portrayed in the movies. They’re not sending you out there to be a hero. They’re sending you out there to be a bully. They’re not sending you out there to be a hero. That’s not what it’s really about. It’s never been about that.. It’s never been about that, you know. The fact that some people fight back and put you in danger is also part of the equation, but it’s not [inaudible] …

The Iraqis never presented any threat to this country and if we leave, those Iraqis don’t present any threat to this country after we leave. Why put yourself into the position to go over there and be forced by circumstances not of your choosing to take the life of another human being who’s a total stranger? Because they’re not some evil caricature like you’ve seen on film and all that stuff. They are people. They have mothers, they have fathers, they have sisters, they have brothers, they have children. You know, there’s people who live them just like there are people that love you.

And those people grieve when they lose them, just like people grieve if they lose you.

That’s maybe not as dramatic and as exciting and clear cut and easy to understand as a sort of simple binary world of good and evil that you get painted for. But that’s not the way the real world is. And in the real world, again, you have to live with the consequences of your decisions for the rest of your life.

Think hard.

You know, I served in eight conflict areas, and I raised my right arm eight times, no, I raised my hand five times in the course of my career, and took an oath, and that oath was to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. I went to eight conflict areas and I never met a single person who was an enemy of the United States Constitution. Not one. No enemies of the Constitution.

I did spend a lot of time going out there again and becoming a political instrument for trans-national corporations and to preserve American military and political supremacy around the world, but that’s not in the oath! That’s not in the oath!

There wasn’t anybody threatening the Constitution in Vietnam, there was nobody threatening the Constitution in Grenada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, [or] Haiti. I went to all of those places, and I never met anybody that was a threat to the Constitution, or the principles of the Constitution for tha matter. I just met people, you know. I met people and they put me in circumstances where I had to do a lot of things that I wish I didn’t have in my head right now.



Published in: on May 17, 2015 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A closer look at charter and regular public school enrollments, percentages of students at risk, and percentages of students ‘proficient’

Here is another look at the brand-new data concerning four variables in the District of Columbia schools, about which I wrote a couple of days ago. The difference here is that the dots representing the schools are more-or=less proportional to the size of the student body.

1. Is this a regular public school, or a charter school (blue or red):

2. What fraction of the kids at that school are officially considered to be At Risk? (That’s the scale along the x-axis at the bottom of the page)

3. What is the average percentage of the kids at that school are ‘proficient’ in reading and math on the DC-CAS? (That’s the scale along the y-axis at the left-hand side of the page)

4. How big is the school? (That’s the size of the dot, more or less; the legend is at the bottom left-hand corner of the graph)

Time spent looking carefully at this graph will be well-spent. If you click on it, it will expand.

It will certainly show that charter schools have not revolutionized education for the better in DC: for both types of schools, there remains a very strong, negative correlation between the percentages of kids At Risk and ‘pass’ rates on the DC-CAS.

Note that most schools have between 200 and 500 students and that most of the ones that are smaller are actually charter schools. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the schools with the largest fraction of At-Risk students (say, over 2/3 of the student body) are almost all regular DC public schools.

On the second graph, which is otherwise identical to the first, I’ve labeled some of the larger schools.

fixed bicolor, size of school and at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

Here is the one with names of some of the larger schools, so you can see how individual schools fall on this graph.

(Sorry, I there was not enough room to label every single one, and my non-existent HTML skills won’t allow me to make it so that any of the dots are clickable. If any of my readers know how to do that and would like to offer to make that happen, then please let me know in the comments.)

again fixed and revised names and bicolor, size of school and at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

And here is the entire data table. So you can see where every single school lies on these three dimensions.

(PS: I added a few more names of schools and corrected four other small errors, two pointed out by an alert reader.. 2/22/2015)

Atlantic Magazine Article on What’s Wrong With the New SAT

Interesting article in the Jan. 20 The Atlantic Magazine concerning the problems with the new SAT (which once was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test).

One problem is that the problems are wordy as all get out and are mostly testing the students’ ability to decipher highly abstract text, not their ability to do math. For example, I present two questions that were cited in the article.

First problem, which you may click on to enlarge:

predicted metacarpal

Not having studied the bones of the hand since junior high school, I didn’t recall what the “First Metacarpal Bone” was;I wrongly guessed it was one of those little tiny bones that allow you to bend your wrist. Only when I looked at how long thse bones are ( 4 to 5 cm) and looked it up online did I find that this is the long bone at the base of your thumb, as you see here in red.


Of course, this fact was was not explained anywhere in the text; and if your first language isn’t English then you are going to have a very hard time with this question. I suspect that the reading level of this problem is very, very high.

Having studied and taught some statistics, I know that the slope of the line of best fit for this graph shows how an increase or decrease of 1 cm in the length of that thumb-bone will predict an increase or decrease in the height of those people.

Now, here is a graph of a very similar correlation (hand length and height) from a real study (and for which a line of best fit would be a whole lot more realistic!):

second metacarpal versus height

Why does David Coleman feel the need to make everything so obscure? Oh! I remember! He’s never taught students, ever!

Oh, and by the way, this question is considered by Mr Coleman to be “easy”.

As is this one, which I am also taking from the Atlantic article:

standard deviation psychology

I will recommend that you read the Atlantic article, since that author has much more patience than I do to explain all of this stuff. The basic idea is that when you sample more items in a population of things or people, then your margin of error gets smaller, which is highly counterintuitive! So asking more people will give you better results, hence a smaller margin of error. Which is not really taught outside of statistics classes. (Assuming that these students generally read for pretty close to an hour and a half a day and feel like telling the truth, OR that they know that they are supposed to say something near 90 minutes a a day…)

In any case, the readability of this question is pretty high, according to the Fry and Lexile algorithms that I used.

Recall, this is supposed to be an EASY question!

And PS: I defy my readers to solve this question: (p,.111)

An international bank issues its Traveler credit cards worldwide. When a customer makes a purchase using a Traveler card in a currency different from the customer’s home currency, the bank converts the purchase price at the daily foreign exchange rate and then charges a 4% fee on the converted cost. Sara lives in the United States, but is on vacation in India. She used her Traveler card for a purchase that cost 602 rupees (Indian currency). The bank posted a charge of $9.88 to her account that included the 4% fee.

part 1

What foreign exchange rate, in Indian rupees per one U.S. dollar, did the bank use for Sara’s charge? Round your answer to the nearest whole number.

part 2

A bank in India sells a prepaid credit card worth 7,500 rupees. Sara can buy the prepaid card using dollars at the daily exchange rate with no fee, but she will lose any money left unspent on the prepaid card. What is the least number of the 7,500 rupees on the prepaid card Sara must spend for the prepaid card to be cheaper than charging all her purchases on the Traveler card? Round your answer to the nearest whole number of rupees.

Essential Questions on “Empowering Males of Color”

Essential Questions on “Empowering Males of Color”.


Looks like this proposed all-male high school east of the Anacostia has a record in Chicago that isn’t so wonderful. Check out this article by one of my colleagues.

How Well are Charter Schools in DC Educating Students Who are Officially At-Risk?

The results may surprise you.

To answer this question, I used some recent data. I just found out that the DC City Council has begun requiring that schools enumerate the number of students who are officially At-Risk. They define this as students who are

“homeless, in the District’s foster care system, qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or high school students that are one year older, or more, than the expected age for the grade in which the students are enrolled.” (That last group is high school students who have been held back at least one time at some point in their school career.)

So, it’s a simple (but tedious) affair for me to plot the percentage of such at risk students, at each of the roughly 200 publicly-funded schools in Washington, DC, versus the average percentage of students who were proficient or advanced in math and reading on the 2014 DC-CAS.

I was rather shocked by the results. Here are my main conclusions:

1. For almost all of the schools, to get a rough idea of the percent of students passing the DC-CAS, simply subtract 90% minus the number of students ‘At-Risk’. The correlation is very, very strong.

2. There are only THREE DC charter schools with 70% or more of their students At-Risk, whereas there are THIRTY-ONE such regular public schools. So much for the idea that the charter schools would do a better job of educating the hardest-to-reach students (the homeless, those on food stamps, those who have already failed one or more grades, etc).

3. The only schools that have more than 90% of their students ‘passing’ the DC-CAS standardized tests remain, to this day, the small handful of schools in relatively-affluent upper Northwest DC with relatively high percentages of white and Asian students..(Unless you include Sharpe Health school, where students who cannot feed or dress themselves or hold a pencil are somehow deemed ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ by methods I can only guess at…)

4. As I’ve indicated before, it appears that for the most part, DC’s charter schools are mostly enrolling smaller percentages of At-Risk, high-poverty students but higher fractions of the students in the middle of the wealth/family-cohesion spectrum than the regular DC public schools. There are a few exceptions among the charter schools: BASIS, Yu Ying, Washington Latin and a few others are succeeding in attracting families and students at the high end of the socio-economic and academic scales.

5. It looks like we are now turning into a tripartite school system: one for affluent and well-educated familes (relatively high fractions of whites and Asians; mostly but not all in regular Ward 3 public schools); one for those in the middle (mostly blacks and hispanics, many enrolled in charter schools), and one for those at the seriously low end of the socio-economic spectrum, overwhelmingly African-American, largely At Risk, and mostly in highly-segregated regular public schools.

Very, very sad.

Here is the graph that sums it all up. Click on it to see a larger version.

bicolor, at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

In blue we have the regular public schools of Washington DC for which I have DC-CAS data for 2014, from grades 3 through 8 and grade 10. In red we have the privately-run but publicly-funded charter schools. Along the horizontal axis, we have the percentage of students who are officially At Risk as defined by the DC CIty Council. Along the vertical axis, we have the average percentage of students who scored ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in math and reading on the DC-CAS at those schools. The green line is the line of best fit as calculated by Excel. Notice that the data points pretty much follow that green line, slanting down and to the right.

To nobody’s surprise, at both the charter and regular public schools, on the whole, the greater the percentage of students at a school who are At Risk, the smaller the percentage of students who ‘pass’ the DC-CAS standardized tests.

The colors do help us see that at the far right-hand end of the graph, there are lots of blue dots and only a small number of red ones. This means that the vast majority of schools with high percentages of At Risk students are regular DC public schools. You could interpret that to mean that parents in more stable families in those neighborhoods are fleeing from what they see as the bad influence of potential classmates who are extremely poor, homeless, have already repeated a grade, and so on, and are flocking to charter schools who have the freedom to expel or ‘counsel out’ such students and to impose a relatively strict behavior code that the DC Council forbids the regular public schools from using. (Their latest initiative is to forbit ALL out-of-school suspensions, no matter what…)

Dots that are above the slanted green line supposedly represent schools that are doing a better job at teaching to the tests than would be predicted by the At-Risk status alone. Dots below the line are doing a worse job than would be predicted. Notice that there are dots of both colors both above and below the line.


I wish to thank the indefatigable Mary Levy for collecting and passing on this data. You can find the original data source at the OSSE website, but I’ve saved the larger table (all 2008-2014 DC-CAS data) on Google Drive at this link. I took the average of the percentage of students ‘passing’ the DC-CAS in math and in reading as the proficiency rate. The note on the at-risk data table reads as follows:

Data Source: SY2013-14 student-level data from OSSE. The list includes DCPS traditional, DCPS citywide specialized, DCPS selective schools, and public charter schools, but excludes any DCPS or public charter adult education or alternative school. The definition of at risk students includes students who are homeless, in the District’s foster care system, qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or high school students that are one year older, or more, than the expected age for the grade in which the students are enrolled.

Lynching – Lest We Forget

Let us remember the number of savage and barbaric lynchings performed in the American South from 1880 up to the year I was born (1950): almost four thousand.

Let us also recall that every single one of these atrocities was undoubtedly committed by people who described themselves as god-fearing, upright Christians who were opposing the very second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, namely “that all men are created equal”.  They were designed to terrorize the Black population of the South into submission, into not asking for equal rights, and to help reverse the results of the Civil War.

Here is the graphic from today’s New York Times showing where and when these lynchings occurred.


Published in: on February 10, 2015 at 12:30 pm  Comments (3)  
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