Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Future Elementary Teachers

AP, 1/19/2005, Nashville TN: "State report paints unflattering picture of math education"
Teacher preparation is one of the main problems, the Nashville School of the Arts instructor said, illustrated by a college class he took on teaching math."The (college) students in the class could not work the problems in the fourth-grade math book," he said. "The teacher told me, after we had our first test, that he was actually going to have to teach them the math."
End quote.

How true, and not only in TN. I taught "Math for Elementary Teachers" several times to Junior and Senior education students. Among the topics that caused major difficulty were:
Problems on Areas and Volumes
Metric and English units conversions
Simple Geometric Proofs
They demanded practice tests and complained bitterly when they didn't get A's. Many elementary teachers simply haven't got the math skills needed to do the math they are supposed to be teaching. They need to be able to think about the topics at a high enough level to plan for questions, come up with alternative explanations, etc. Unfortunately, many elementary education teachers (over half, I think) cannot operate at this level when they graduate from college.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

A few good links on NCLB

Teacher Shortages in North Dakota and No Child Left Behind Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 2003
More Children Left Behind by Phyllis Schlafley
No Dollar Left Behind by Tim Carney
Leave the Slogans Behind by Michelle Malkin

A Science Fair Project Suggestion?

An article titled "Man peed way out of avalanche" recounts how a Slovak man melted snow with urine to get out of an avalanche. He drank 60 bottles of beer he had in the car, which was buried in the snow, to accomplish this feat. Hmmm. I wonder if the urine was more effective at melting snow than pouring the beer (which some might recognize contains alcohol, a good melting agent) directly on it would have been. Would anyone like to tackle this experiment? (From Drudge by way of Byrd Droppings)

How Students Learn ... Math ...

"The National Research Council has released an extensive report on principles of learning in the areas of mathematics, science and history. " (NASSMC News Briefs, referring to Education Week, 12 January 2005 (p. 11)) The report may be read in its entirety on line: www.nap.edu/books/0309074339/html/ This is worth studying. I have scanned some of the early chapters and hope to have more comments later.

Bush Calls for More Testing under NCLB

At a Virginia School, Bush called for extending testing to grade 11 under No Child Left Behind. Rather than a smaller Federal government, which Republicans traditionally support, the president continues to advocate expanded involvement of the Fed in the business that rightfully belongs to parents (or at most, states). The refrain for more government control continues unabated. Yes, schools are in trouble. No, more government is not the answer.

Poll for Congressmen

Stolen Thunder (http://stolenthunder.blogspot.com/) is asking representatives and senators to fill out a poll to reveal their stances on various issues. The poll itself as well as the responses (or lack thereof) are interesting.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

On testing

For some good thoughts about high stakes testing, I recommend
The Tests We Need and Why We Don't Quite Have Them by E.D. Hirsch

A Rigorous Education is Un-American?

It has been about a year now since the controversy about a rigorous Math-Science charter school erupted in Massachusetts. Michael and Julia Sigalovsky, disappointed in the local schools that seemed more interested in providing fun for the students than actually educating them, wanted to start a school based on ideas borrowed from successful institutions in Germany, China, and the Soviet Union. The interesting thing about this is the incredible resistance the proposal generated. See:

The Age 1/18/2004

Boston Globe 3/21/2004

Said Julia: "I believe kids in elementary and middle school are just wasting their time in school. Everybody feels they're supposed to have fun. They're capable of learning at a much higher level."

Said Michael: "Well, you tell me this: why are the vested interests so desperate to stop American kids being smart kids?"

The school is to open Next Fall. Their website is at: http://www.amsacs.org/index.htm. I wish them well.

The comments below were written last year in response to the Boston Globe article.


My father is a World War II veteran too, who served in Germany. I think he would be puzzled by the comment "I don't want my kids educated like Germans." I certainly am. He knows that the Germans accomplished great things before and during the war, even if Hitler used those accomplishments for evil (and some of those Germans escaped and put their talents to work for America). But that's a long time ago. I don't know much about today's German school system, but I will say this --if somebody has a system that works, I don't care who it is--we should see if it works for us too. The name-calling, juvenile objections given are really masking the sinister truth--that a lot of Americans think that an effective, advanced education is a BAD THING. It just isn't fair if some people have more talent than others, and if some work harder than others, and so achieve at higher levels. It's Un-American. Oh, it's perfectly fine for some athletes to achieve at higher levels through incredible dedication and long hours of work combined with natural talent. But that's probably because athletics is "only a game." In something serious, like academics, such a thing is unacceptable. We can't allow some people to put on airs and act smarter than others. You never know, they might try to take over the country or something. It's also perfectly fine for some adults (adults, not teenagers) to work hard, apply their talent, and succeed in business. We give them honors and put them on magazine covers next to the athletes. But they had better not have started these successful habits in middle school! That wouldn't be fair!

Too many Americans, including many educators, are cheating the children as well as society by cutting off the children's educational potential at the feet--that is, in elementary and middle school. I agree that we should "leave no child behind." But while our efforts to bring the low achievers up are noble, we are indeed depraved if we deny our high achievers the opportunity to show us what they are capable of. Every time somebody comes up with a plan that will help our most talented students live up to their potential, the plan is attacked as "un-American" or "racist" or "classist." It will surely widen the achievement gap between the rich and poor, the black and white, etc. It is politically Dead On Arrival. Sigalovsky is right, and anybody who thinks seriously about these matters knows it.

There is one thing that is more damaging to educational achievement than any other factor. We have given up the work ethic. Most students never learn the lesson that long hours, hard work, and dedication are the key to success. Some learn this in athletics, and this is often a factor in their future success in the adult world of work. But precious few have the opportunity to learn it in academics. The trend has been going on for a long time, but in recent years the change has become overwhelmingly evident in higher education. Colleges see more and more students who are simply unwilling to do any work. They say they don't have time for homework, or they don't say anything--they just don't do it. They seem to believe that by occupying a seat in the class they should have earned the right to call themselves educated. "If by the age of 13 they don't have the habits, the hard work, and logical thinking, it's too late." Thus spake Julia Sigalovsky. I would call her a prophet if it weren't for the fact that her profound statement really ought to be self-evident.


Hi, I am Dr. Stat and this is my blog.

I have been teaching in some capacity, on and off, for about 20 years now. I have taught, at least a little, at all levels from Kindergarten to Ph.D. students. I hope that, during that time, I have learned some things that can enable me to be helpful to others, and thus give YOU a reason to read my blog.

Or, if I can't be helpful, maybe at least I can be entertaining, or interesting, or thought-provoking, or revolting--anything will do, as long as there is a reaction!

My goal is to improve education. Education is in the news now, more than ever, and most of the news is bad. Indeed, even if the media portrayal of education is sensational, there is little doubt that improvement is both needed and greatly desired. And here the fun begins, for there is no shortage of disputation on the details of what should be done.