Saturday, May 18, 2013

ADHD - A Peculiarly American Problem?

Read this article, from the journal Psychology Today, no less:

Here are my thoughts.

Yes, ADHD is somewhat of an American construct.  But look at WHY we treat kids for ADHD.  It's predominantly because they're not doing well or acting out in school.  But the response of schools in America is quite different than the response of schools in France.

The psycho-social response to ADHD in France suggests that they actually believe the parent is the parent, and that the best place to treat a child with behavioral problems is in the home.

In the USA, the child belongs to the village, and at least for two generations now, we have taught parents they are incompetent as parents, that they had better let the village raise and educate the child.

Melissa Harris-Perry (click here to see her ad on MSNBC) puts her finger right on it.  But she isn't proposing that we ought to stop thinking about the kids being 'privately owned'.  She's actually verbalizing what has been taught to parents.  

Never mind that the village isn't much interested in feeding, clothing, or providing the child a place to sleep.  If the child turns out well, then the school gets the kudos and points joyously to the nice test scores.  If the child turns out badly, it's the parents' fault.  My supporting argument:  When did you ever see parents getting recognition for their children's test scores?

Certainly, then, schools have to use the resources available for adjusting a child's behavior.  The family itself is not often in their tool box.  American families run hither and yon to various child activities, and have little time for family activities.  About half of American families don't have both parents under the same roof with the child.  American families, intact or not, are often more interested in chasing the dollar than they are raising children.  Schools are for babysitting while they go do that.

It is no wonder to me that schools recommend the use of drugs to control behavior.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Common Core Curriculum Standards and math I teach

So, the new educational reform is Common Core State Standards Initiative.  And just like ALL of the other educational reforms, this one looks good on the surface:  "Let's make it so that everyone is actually teaching the same thing at the same time, so that if a student moves from one educational setting to another that there will be continuity in his/her education."

Nice thought.

But it's the industrial manufacturing conveyor belt model of doing education.  It PRESUMES that if we set the standard that we can just automatically meet it.

Before I begin with an example from the mathematical standards I have another critique:  These were written so that almost no parent and many administrators can know what is going on.  I read some of them and had to scratch my head over the vocabulary.  Here's an example I COULD follow:

CCSS.Math.Content.8.F.B.5 Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.

Translation for the general populace:  Use knowledge about how the equation affects the graph to match an equation with a graph.

Notice the first number after the phrase "Math.Content".  This exercise is intended for grade 8.  In our current lineup of math topics, this would occur closer to the latter half of a first-year algebra course, traditionally taken in grade 9. By then, students in the book I use have seen linear equations, direct and inverse variation, quadratic and exponential equations, and a few higher-degree polynomial equations.  Each draws a recognizable graph, and given enough of the graph you can tell what kind of equation generated that graph.  Given the equation a student can draw a quick sketch (no more difficult than any letter of the alphabet) that the equation should draw.

This is a first-year algebra exercise.  But the Common Core Standards have it as an 8th grade math exercise.  They are expecting to put EVERY 8th grader through algebra.

*long pause for my dismay and astonishment to bubble to the surface*

I work with adults at the community college.  Some of them had algebra shoved at them too soon, when they were 9th graders in high school.  The CC Standards appear to be putting the first half of algebra into the 7th grade, and the 2nd half into 8th grade.  I'll have a career, picking up the pieces years later, until I die!

I want to reassure parents of children with whom I work.  I fully intend to math-activate your student.  But I will NOT present algebra before it is appropriate for your child.  Do not bring me a 7th grader, insisting that I teach algebra because that's the CC Standard for the rest of the population.  The rest of the population will not be able to meet that standard, or they will dumb it so far down that it means nothing.

A cognitive maturity has to happen before people can work fluently with letters representing unknown quantities.  When that maturity happens, it happens.  It can be as young as age 12, and it might not happen before age 17 and sometimes later.  I will NOT frighten your child away from math because of a measuring stick someone else has created.  I would love the opportunity to take your child through pre-calculus, whenever s/he is ready for that.  For most students, that should happen before you send them to college.  College can wait until the student is ready.  As I have said in other entries in this blog, there is NO reason to hurry college.  Wait until you're well-prepared to take advantage of the coursework, without paying for 'remedial' coursework.

So relax.  The child learns to walk when God has ordained that will happen.  Every child without a physical impairment learns to walk.  We can do the same with algebra.  We will honor what God has created, and not try to bend the child to the will of a human standard.  When s/he is ready, we'll do the math.  S/he will be far better prepared than the student who has had to muddle through a class meant to meet the CC Standard.

By the way, you're invited to come along.  If YOUR math education needs refreshing, or if you didn't finish the course, you're welcome to take it alongside your child, for free.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Educational reform rammed down our throats

I attended the community college math conference today for Washington state.  One of the invited speakers was Amy Getz, from the Charles A Dana Center in Austin, TX.  She talked about Mathways, an educational reform project whose engine is the Dana Center.  The effort is to make a shorter path for community college students from pre-algebra to a terminal level math course.

In the Mathways project, it would begin with a pair of 'co-requisite' (meaning 'must be taken concurrently') courses, one in the humanities and one in the sciences.  The humanities course would focus on study skills and would have students sorting out their career choices and writing their college plans.  The math course would include exploring career choices in math/science as well as the math skills pre-requisite to a college-level course.  In Texas where they plan to implement this, they see this as a 1-semester course.

Students would then progress to one of the following:
   1. a college-level course in quantitative reasoning that would be suitable for a degree not requiring much math or science.  It would allow them to take a basic science class, but that's about all.  Think Early Childhood Education (ECE).
   2.  a college-level course in statistics, also pre-requisite to a basic science class, and appropriate for the lower-level health care workers (nursing, massage therapy, medical assisting) and perhaps some business fields that do a fair bit of market analysis.
   3.  a STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) path leading to calculus.

Currently, about all we offer at the CC level is the third one, anticipating that the more doors that are open, the more opportunities that students will have.  As hopeful as that is, there are a lot of students who wash out of college because of the college-level math requirement, and in some cases the math requirement is a little silly.  ECE folks don't need to factor quadratics.  They DO need to be able to gather some data about their students and talk about their progress.

According to the Dana Center, this sort of change needs to be a universal one.  For some time they have been working with educational groups and others interested in seeing this change, getting buy-in from colleges and universities across Texas and in other states where groups have indicated an interest in the project.  The number of bureaucracies that have to make the decision and implement changes is pretty vast.  At each educational institution there is a board of directors, some form of a curriculum committee, department chairs, instructors, bookstores who will sell new books, and people who work to meet accreditation standards; there are the companies who come to each college and do accreditation evaluations, there are agreements between institutions about what constitutes a college level course and the content they approve, there are agreements between the local community colleges and the universities to which students will transfer about courses and their content.  Ms. Getz said they had the stage all set to make the change to the new Mathways project in Texas, Fall 2014.

Here's the curiouser parts of this:

1.  There's no text yet.  Ms. Getz said that much of this would be online, and that they were on the verge of a publishing agreement with a book publisher, but of course couldn't say anything until that agreement was finished.  But they want to make this massive change in about a year.

2.  That means that NO ONE has done this yet, and there is no research about whether the outcome will be the desired one.  I'm just wondering here about all of those brave new students and all of the money they spend on college; all of the higher educational institutions and/or employers who will have to decide if these students are properly prepared...  But they want to make this massive change in about a year.

3.  The Dana Center representative said that the part they hadn't thought out well yet was the STEM path.  But that's what we HAVE been doing for a long time.  Why is that one so hard?

I agree that we need some changes.  And while I listened to this I thought "Ok, this is in Texas.  When they have it sorted out it will head this way."  (I'm in WA, remember?)  Now that I'm home and thinking about tomorrow's final sessions at the math conference, it's occurred to me that I've heard this all before.

1.  It happened with No Child Left Behind.  That began as America 2000, and was heavily campaigned for and sold to us by the Businessmen's Roundtable.  The current iteration of it is Core Curriculum Standards.  (The New Mathways project admits to being heavily informed by the Core Curriculum project.)  All of these have wonderful names, but the results have been flatly unimpressive.  This is busy-work that eats up people's time and taxpayer dollars.  It's not reform.

2.  There was a major overhaul of healthcare rammed through Congress not too many years ago.  The famous line was "We'll have to pass the bill in order to see what's in it." Uh huh.

3.  This sounds a lot like the 'transitions' course that was implemented when one of my kids got to high school.  Students in this course spent time learning how to be successful in high school.  It was silly to cause all students to take this course, just as silly as not continuing the course throughout more years of high school for those students who needed the extra support.

So, Dana Center.  Why don't you try this out somewhere?  Work the bugs out of it.  Get some research done.  See how effective it is.  Tell us how students like it, how transfer institutions view it, how successful those students are after a few years.  Come back and give us a report then.