Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
November 18th, 2009

My “Blog About This” list is growing like kudzu, so in the interest of time….

Jay Greene “can’t understand the enthusiasm of education reformers for national standards and testing.”  Jay sees plenty of room for mischief.  I’m inclined to agree.  However, if all we end up with is national testing that allows apples-to-apples comparisons of students from different states, it would help eliminate the clearly fraudulent state testing games we’re now seeing. 

Speaking of standards, Dan Willingham’s latest over at The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet looks at the emerging math standards.  Dan likes what he sees–with the caveat that setting standards and knowing how to reach them are very different things.  He points out that students need three types of mathematical know-how: math facts, procedures and conceptual knowledge.

It’s great that the Common Core standards acknowledge the importance of conceptual knowledge, but prior documents have done so—sometimes to the exclusion of factual and procedural knowledge. The problem is that this is the most difficult type of knowledge to teach and to learn.

Dan concludes that a recent calls for kids to have specialized math teachers starting in 4th grade are good, but not good enough.  He thinks we should start in 1st grade.

I meant to weigh in on the blog-on-blog violence that has broken out between Checker Finn, Rick Hess and Kevin Carey over saving teaching jobs with economic stimulus dollars.  I’m also long overdue in pointing to this excellent post about rhetorical excesses in discussions about charter schools by Nancy Flanagan over at Teacher in a Strange Land. 

Via Kitchen Table Math comes a post from a mom in Alaska not named Sarah Palin, who complains about how her daughter’s class time is frittered away watching TV and movies.  How many each week? 

She thought a bit, counting up on her fingers and trying to remember. “Oh–I don’t know–five or six, maybe more. We watch t.v. pretty much every day in at least one class and any time we have a sub they put in movies or something. We watch stuff like Mythbusters a lot and call it chemistry.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The post strains my credulity, sounding too over-the-top to be quite credible.  But if even a quarter of what this mother says is true, it’s cause for alarm.  I’d love to hear more about it.

Lastly another one of those wild, wacky yet oh-so-effective teacher stories, this one out of San Diego.  I’m sure the guy is great, but I have to confess I’m getting as tired of attention-seeking behavior in teachers as I was of it in students.


  1. Regarding that “wild but wacky” teacher, I don’t mind if he acts out. If it works, it works–and why not inspire students in goofy ways, as long as you’re not abandoning the content and rigor? (Some people took issue with his understanding of “infinity,” but I’m not qualified to comment on that.)

    It’s worrying when EVERY teacher is expected to teach that way. We love engaging teachers, but not ever teacher is Robin Williams. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

    Comment by Claus — November 18, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  2. “…national testing that allows apples-to-apples comparisons of students from different states, it would help eliminate the clearly fraudulent state testing games we’re now seeing.” Right you are Robert, and therein lies the value of the proposal.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — November 18, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  3. Hi Rob,

    As a parent I have encountered excessive use of Disney movies in my kids’ school. When my daughter started K we quickly found out that the school had the kids watch movies if there was indoor recess. Given the fact that the principal is weather phobic (a drop of rain or slightly chilled is a reason to be indoors with her and the recess aides) and that they refuse to clear the play area from ice or snow in the winter (and kids being in ice or snow is against county school policy!) the kids have indoor recess quite frequently. Luckily I was able to band with a strong group of parents and had this practice stopped immediately. We had to get parents to donate games, block and other toys to the classrooms as a trade-off. The lack of such things was the excuse for movies and TV. Also, I have many times showed up to volunteer and found my kids watching movies. There are educational movies, but that is not what I encounter with the exception of one exceptional teacher. Instead they are Disney movies almost 100% of the time. Interestingly the principal claims that the school does not have time to teach history or science because there is only time for reading and math (and apparently Disney as well).

    Comment by Gina — November 18, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  4. In middle school, I won awards at the city and state level for my French proficiency. Then I switched from a private school to a public high school. I spent the majority of those four years of French class not only watching movies, but watching movies in English. As you can imagine, by the time I graduated in 2001 I barely spoke a second language.

    Comment by Kelsey Parker — November 19, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  5. Thanks for including my post on charter schools in your must-read list. I’m honored.

    And I want to support Gina’s taking action on the “default movie” practice in her school, especially providing healthy alternatives. I wish parents everywhere would let principals and teachers know that watching movies that are disconnected from genuine curriculum makes it harder for kids to pay attention to films that are used productively in learning. Kids know when a movie is simply a way of keeping them quiet, too.

    The days of a video being a special treat are long gone. And just because movies don’t contain objectionable content doesn’t mean that should be used as time-fillers. There’s also a little murk around copyright laws and whether teachers should legally be bringing in their personal copies of entertainment films. I’d certainly rather have my kids playing with Legos or at the Scrabble board–but in my school, the PTA bought a whole set of Disney films as a gift for teachers. Yuck. And I like Disney films.

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — November 20, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  6. Mr. Pondiscio,

    How do you know that national testing or standards for that matter (in other words essentially expanding NCLB tenfold) WILL eliminate the games that states are playing? It seems to me that you’ve overlooked the obvious fact that the whole push for a national curriculum and testing is precisely what has caused states to fudge their results to look good to Washington in the first place since the feds contol the educational system in this country. It all comes back to local versus federal control.Although I don’t want my kids to have anything to do with the institution known as school itself whether it be run by the government or the Catholic Church, I think states and communities should resume control of educational matters.

    I’m sure you know the fact that the Department of Education is unconstitutional and all of the educational legislation that Washington has passed in the last fifty years is also because the Constitution doesn’t give Congress the authority to be involved in educational matters. The founders left that to the states where at least until about 1960 it remained. A national curriculum and testing(even voluntary as Common Core is trying to achieve) is dangerous because it destroys states and local communities’ abilities to be flexible as they have been in what they want to teach as not every part of the country is alike(California vs Vermont for example) in tastes and economic goals. It is also treatening to those of us out there who are homeschooling our kids. The reason why Belgium, France, and other European countries score high on international achievement tests is not because they have a curriculum sequence like “Core Knowledge”, but because they give parents CHOICES for how their children are educated in the first place. Homeschooling, by the way, is a growing phenomenon not just in our country but around the world. Hopefully, most parents will see the light and pull their kids out of the schools and start teaching them themselves as they should have been doing all along. Then maybe we wouldn’t be having this debate about national standars and testing in the first place.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 20, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

  7. Speaking of required reading, I would love it if the blog were on Twitter.

    Comment by FeFe — November 20, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  8. I Tweet most of the blog posts here:

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — November 20, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  9. [...] everyone is amused. Robert at The Core Knowledge Blog says: “…another one of those wild, wacky yet oh-so-effective teacher stories, this one [...]

    Pingback by Where's the passion? — May 17, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

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