Monday, November 24, 2008

Going Beyond Anecdotes

Guest column

This is a Great Blog! Thanks for all the work, it's amazing!!

A few comments from my tiny sector of the universe, along with a question and the suggestion of a research project.

I've been teaching Middle School Mathematics in a district that evidently is among the pioneering leaders in NYC in using "Workshop Model." As far as I can tell the school uses a packaged, commercial version. As interpreted in the school this essentially means that the teachers are mandated to rigidly adhere to formulaic teaching. The formulas are such things as specifically ordered and prominently displayed "Agendas," having student do "Group Work" - i. e. having students sit together in groups of three to six and to do problems together instead of working on problems individually, "Differentiated Instruction" which is to give different students different levels of work, doing work that can be displayed on "Bulletin Boards," etc.

We are given to understand that these things have been going on at this school since Klein became chancellor (or even under his predecessor). Therefore in any case, all the students we now see have been under the Klein administration's organizational structures and models virtually their entire educational lives: the eighth graders since the 2nd grade, the seven graders since the 1st grade, and the sixth graders since kindergarten - indeed their whole educational lives.

I and many of my Mathematics colleagues (newer teachers as much as, if not more than senior teachers) consistently say that they see that classroom performance in Mathematics is horrendous. (Some of the senior teachers say that they are seeing Mathematics performance as clearly worsening over the last decade (kids do the times tables or divide, can't remember procedure, can't solve word problems on their own.)

From conversations with colleagues who teach high school and college it is seems that NYC teachers universally think that Mathematics skill and knowledge is worse than it's ever been across the city. I've heard a CUNY Mathematics professor go so far as to declare that even the best NYC students who apply to major in Mathematics at CUNY are routinely no less than a year their out of town peers despite their high school grades.

Most of us have come to believe that scoring students at a Level 2 is simply the new method of doing social promotion. We heard that in Mathematics the old form of social promotion was straightforward: students were routinely promoted even if they were at a very low percentile (perhaps the 15th?). In any case it seems that the number of poorly performing students passing is great.

As Mathematics teachers we know that as compelling as anecdotal observations and "war stories" are, they in no way constitute any type of proof. So, it would be worthwhile to be able to have some relatively objective "proof" of what we think we are seeing. We have been relying simply on the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for far too long now, which Tweed just denies and / or ignores. Unfortunately, the teachers currently in graduate school are reporting that the local college professors are taking a very fatalistic attitude to educational research as it appears that public schools administrations across the country and not just in NYC are now simply ignoring educational research.

Is anyone aware of a publicly available test akin to the National Assessment of Educational Progress that we can administer to the students? Perhaps, it might be a good idea to organize to do a serious study that would test the veracity of the beliefs we have formed based on our experience.

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