What A Parent Wants From A School

As a parent, I look for two categories of attributes when choosing a school for my child:
– Ones which benefit my child directly
– Ones which benefit my child indirectly, by helping others (teachers, parents) do their jobs more effectively

Schools that satisfy more of the attributes in both categories are likely to have happier parents and more successful students.

The Administration and Teachers Should Help My Child

Directly By:

  • Being aware of history. Before the start of each school year, my child’s current teacher(s) should have reviewed all of
    – last years’ teacher comments for my child
    – my child’s transcript (all courses, all years at the school)
  • Helping my child to both pursue existing  Continue reading What A Parent Wants From A School

Cost effective adult education: might it influence secondary education?

An article in The Washington Monthly titled “The College For-profits Should Fear” describes the founding and growth of Western Governors University. It uses an on-line model with some twists:

  • Course credits based on assessments completed. If you pass the final assessment, you get credit for the course… even if you just took the initial course assessment a few days earlier.
  • Tuition is charged per semester, not per course enrollment. This encourages students to complete as many courses per semester as they can, as it can save them money.

From what the article describes , this model seems most successful with older students – people who know what they seek, and don’t wish to waste time getting there. The WGU model is interesting for several reasons:

  • It has tuition levels that are around 40% or less that of other on-line programs, about $6,000 per year.
  • It employs full-time Mentors, who serve as a combination of guidance counselor, tutor, cheer-leader, and ombudsman for students. While they seem to provide a regular point of contact between students and the degree program, the article does not specify how many hours per week of such contact a typical student receives.
  • It uses industry-based standard assessments whenever possible as culminating assessments. The goals of the programs are therefore hopefully better aligned with the professional goals of the industries it is preparing students to enter.

The low tuition means that this model Continue reading Cost effective adult education: might it influence secondary education?

“Teacher” is an inaccurate title

People, both as children and adults, are constantly learning new things. The more actively engaged in the learning process they are, the more likely they are to learn something well and retain that knowledge. So what exactly is the person “teaching” a course doing? Their title implies that they are somehow loading knowledge into student brains. While that may fit the assumptions behind the “lecture model” of instruction, that is not the way learning works.

So what title is appropriate for people who:
– Decide on, or create a sequence of topics and tasks that engage, but do not overwhelm
– Set the stage, pique student interest, then Continue reading “Teacher” is an inaccurate title

Lecturing: There Are Better Ways ToTeach

Many widely used math textbooks seem written for a traditional “lecture-style” teacher. They can be challenging to teach from if you are trying to reduce time spent “talking at” the class.

Some of the NSF-funded mathematics texts published over the past decade make it much easier for a teacher to avoid lecture mode, but:

– from a parent’s perspective, some texts don’t seem to have much of a role for the teacher, so how can/should a teacher add obvious value (in student and parent eyes) to what is in the text?

– the lack of prominently highlighted boxes around all information needed for the test is a source of student gripes. Students need to re-learn “how to learn” when a text or teacher takes a different approach, so time and effort needs to be devoted to this at the start of the year.

– the format of each unit can begin to Continue reading Lecturing: There Are Better Ways ToTeach

The Purpose of High School Mathematics

The 2011 Anja S. Greer Conference on Secondary School Mathematics at Phillips Exeter Academy provided many opportunities to hears others’ ideas about the purpose of our High School Mathematics Curriculum.  Some of the statements I noted were (with apologies that none are exact quotes, and my lack of attribution on some):

In life, not to mention just about any academic subject, students should question information they come across, then work to support or refute it using numbers as needed.

Quantitative situations can be found in poems, literature, environmental claims, social justice issues, and social service needs.  We teach mathematics so that students can decide for themselves whether the quantities involved make sense or not.  Ray Williams (St. Mark’s School, Perth, AU) presentation.

Let the students ask Continue reading The Purpose of High School Mathematics

Race To Nowhere: Conclusions

The movie “Race to Nowhere” provides much food for thought. While the homework loads and high stress levels shown in the movie no doubt exist in many school environments, I have not perceived them to the same degree in our community. Having said that, there are certainly some weeks of the year which are more stressful than others.

Further Questions

As I left the movie, I did not feel that it had answered the following questions to my satisfaction:

1. Are students making productive use of all their available time?
I know many students who regularly have blocks of time that they could use to complete school work, but choose not to. If this is also true for the students portrayed in the movie, effective time management is a useful skill that can often be taught or improved upon.

2. Are students studying efficiently/appropriately?
I know many students who have not been taught Continue reading Race To Nowhere: Conclusions

The Cost of Education

Making high quality educational services available at an affordable price per student is a challenging task. Consider the costs of offering one course at a school:

Teacher Salary

What is the market salary for a highly skilled teacher with good experience teaching a particular subject? The answer to this question usually depends on the grade level and geographic location, but I will assume it might be $45,000 for a teacher in areas of the United States with an average cost of living.

School Year Length

The above salary number reflects a 185 day, or 37 week school year. It will probably vary a bit if the school year is longer or shorter than 185 days.


Schools are complex organizations that require Continue reading The Cost of Education

Standards Based Grading Trial

After reading a number of blog postings about Standards Based Grading (SBG), I tried a hybrid version of it during the Fall semester of 2010 in an Algebra I class and three Algebra II classes. What follows is a description of how I approached things, what worked, and what didn’t.

Grading Policy

Approximately 40% of each student’s semester grade was based on SBG quiz scores, 30% on traditional chapter test scores, and 30% on the semester exam.

I was not obligated to test to specific standards, so I picked quiz “topics” which were timely and allowed for challenging questions. My goal was to have most questions be challenging enough to make perfect scores unlikely on the first try.

Each student’s best two scores for each topic counted towards their overall Quiz grade. All lower scores for the topic were dropped, regardless of the sequence in which the scores were obtained.

Each answer received a maximum of five points:
– One point for attempting the problem
– One point for using a valid approach to the problem
– Three points for working the problem to a solution
– One point taken away (up to three) for each algebra or arithmetic error

Quiz Opportunities

My grade book consisted of a three-ring binder with one page for each student. Each page had a Continue reading Standards Based Grading Trial