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Another bad math question from NY State

May 14, 2015 am31 12:17 am

How can New York State test kids in math when it can no longer consistently write appropriate questions? This gaffe is almost two years old, but it looks like no one noticed the problem, until it showed up on the Association of Mathematics Teachers of New York State (AMTNYS) listserve this week.

On the August 2013 geometry regents, students were asked to find the slant height of a cone, given the lateral area.

It’s easier than it sounds. There is a formula sheet in the back that gives

L = πrl,

where L = lateral area and l = slant height and r = radius.

Heres’s the question:

14.  The lateral area of a right circular cone is equal to 120π cm. If the base of the cone has a diameter of 24 cm, what is the length of the slant height, in centimeters? (1) 2.5 (3) 10 (2) 5 (4) 15.7

Since radius is half the diameter, r = 12 and plugging in:   120π = π(12)l, or l = 10, choice 3.

But wait. The height of the cone (like a flagpole from the base to the highest point), the radius (like a stripe from the base of the flagpole to the edge of the cone), and the “slant height” form a right triangle, with the slant height being the hypotenuse. So how is the hypotenuse (10) shorter than the base (12)? Can’t happen in the real world… but in New York State?

Here is an insightful comment from the listserve:

This is another example of the type of error that has been occurring on Regents exams since the early 1990s when the math bureau of NYSED was downsized from 7 very experienced and talented people (a bureau chief + 6 math specialists) to an inexperienced few.  It is also a product of contracting out the writing of exams to rich companies that had no experience in this area.
The errors often occur from the creation of questions that require substitution into formulas without looking at a drawing to see if the numbers are possible.

Did the UFT change its position on testing?

May 13, 2015 am31 7:39 am

Probably not. But we should not gloss over the formal shift.

In this week’s NY Teacher there is a brief report on the April 15 UFT Delegate Assembly:

The first resolution, introduced by Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds, articulated the union’s view on the role of testing in public education. The resolution voiced the UFT’s support for the right of parents to opt their child out of state tests, called on the state to break Pearson’s monopoly on testing and condemned Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to increase the weight of standardized tests in teacher evaluation, among other things. (Resolutions: Delegates approve resolution on proper use of assessments)

The full text of the resolution, as passed, is here on the UFT website.

But there’s something missing.

As originally written, the resolution said that tests were good for rating teachers and schools.

RESOLVED, that the UFT affirms its support of standards and its support of multiple measures to assess student progress, evaluate teachers and gauge the success of schools;

The resolution was introduced at the March 7 UFT Executive Board. New Action moved to strike “evaluate teachers” and Unity sent up several speakers to argue against the amendment, and defeated it. (It would be easy to add “overwhelmingly” since Unity controls all but ten of the 102 votes, but there were clearly some who quietly chose not to vote).

But at the Delegate Assembly a few weeks later, I moved to strike “evaluate teachers and gauge the success of schools.” There was another proposed amendment (changing “standardized assessments” to “state-mandated assessments,” shifting both meaning and tone). I saw LeRoy Barr move from the podium to the floor of the meeting hall – usually a sign that he would take the mike to speak against. A Unity loyalist whispered to me that it was a good amendment, but that it would be voted down. But after some discussion, I saw that LeRoy returned to the podium. They changed their minds? Sure enough, the amendment went through, either unanimously or close to it.

What happened?  Mulgrew was touting the new Federal Legislation that would stop mandating sanctions for schools with low test scores, and stop forcing states to rate teachers based on student test scores. It would be hard to favor such changes, if the union maintained its traditional stance that said that test scores should be part of rating teachers and schools. In fact, a delegate asked if the amendment was just echoing the federal change. Also, Unity has been taking heat for helping bring in the lousy evaluation system. And the DA was during state testing, and Unity was taking heat for opposing MORE’s opt out resolution. They stepped aside.

It’s not a small thing. The largest teachers’ local in the country dropped its official support for using tests to rate teachers. The Delegate Assembly said that we do not support using “multiple measures” to”evaluate teachers and gauge the success of schools.”

The DA coverage in the New York Teacher omits that the Delegates don’t want multiple measures used to rate teachers and schools. It is easier (not easy) to delete language from a resolution. It’s another thing to change policy, on the ground. We have not seen any change in practice.



More Fallible Friends

May 3, 2015 pm31 5:29 pm

While I search for a copy of an old puzzle, I’ll post a new one of the same type:

So I asked five friends about a number they had seen, and each one told me two things about the number. Unfortunately, my friends are infallibly inconsistent – if they say two things, one is guaranteed to be right, one is guaranteed to be wrong, and it’s hard to tell which is which. Can you help find the secret number?

Abigail: It is a multiple of 3. And it is a prime.

Bernard: It has a 2 in it. And it is the product of two distinct primes.

Cassandra: It is a three-digit number. And it is even.

Declan: It does not have a 0 in it. And it does not have a 6 in it.

Ernestine: It is the product of three distinct primes. And it is a two digit number.

Have they told you enough? Do you know the number?

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——– —– — — – –

I am producing more of these because one class is eating them up. There’s some number sense. There’s some reasoning. And at 5 minutes, and in exchange for enthusiasm the rest of the period, it’s an easy choice.

Notice that Declan is a more directly useful than some of the others. His statements can be combined into “has a 0 or a 6 but not both.”  If I were working with younger kids, I would use more of those sorts of pairs, for example “It is even and it is a multiple of 6″ which narrows things quickly or “It is two digits and it is less than 50″ which places an even tighter restriction.

Next most directly useful might be the combination of Cassandra and Ernestine. Notice how there are not 4 T/F choices, but only 2.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——– —– — — – –

I’m interested in feedback from anyone who has tried these (and enjoyed or not enjoyed them) or even more so, from anyone who has tried these with kids.

Sue published me!

May 1, 2015 am31 7:12 am

That’s Sue Van Hattum. And she published a great big book called “Playing with Math.” And not just me. Rather, lots of people contributed. My “play” is two tiny puzzles. But still, it’s a real book. See the real cover (at the bottom of this post)?

In celebration, I took one of my puzzles, and let a class do it. I hadn’t done fallible friends  yet this year, and I thought the kids might appreciate it more since it was now “published” and not just a worksheet their teacher made. (We did the easier one that Sue published, but you might like to try this harder one.) One class loved it, and begged for more. The others? A bit mixed. But that’s ok.


I actually got a pdf of Playing with Math earlier, but a book with a cover is special. You can leaf through it. Which I did. And I’ve already discovered a dozen other ways to play with math. And I am not nearly through. I would have wanted this book, even if I wasn’t part of it. Cool.

You can order Playing with Math here.


Getting push polled by my union?

April 26, 2015 pm30 12:41 pm

My union e-mails me surveys. The right way to get member sentiment is to let chapter discussions happen, filter up from Chapter Leader to District Rep to the leadership on the 14th Floor of 52 Broadway.

Unfortunately, that chain is weak or broken. There are schools without Chapter leaders, chapter leaders who do not meet with their chapters or meet without discussion, chapter leaders who do not pass on information to their District Reps, DRs who do not solicit member thoughts from CLs, DRs who ignore schools where they do not get info, DRs who are afraid to share negative information with the 14th Floor, and times when 14 does not hear what some DRs are saying.

But even though it’s not the right way for a union to listen to members, certainly not to listen to chapter leaders, I fill them in. Last week I got a letter from Michael Mulgrew (well, signed by him, not actually from him, see below) asking me to fill in a survey that would just take 15 minutes (it took me more).

I was tooling along, answering what borough I was in and what I taught last year (I filled in for the year before, because of sabbatical), when I got to THE QUESTION.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 8.37.01 AM

So I could check Community School, since some of the ideas of providing services make sense, but I really don’t know full details. The others are just plain unacceptable.

Plus, what do they mean by:

“…there are a number of schools that have been struggling for many years to raise student achievement….”?

We know that there are schools in poor neighborhoods where kids don’t do as well. And we would like to help more kids succeed. But “student achievement”? That’s what Cuomo, Rhee, Gates, Duncan etc call test scores. Do we really want our union to use “Klein-speak”? And do we really want our union to focus on test scores?  This sort of language is embarrassing.

In fact, the whole question accepts the premise that if a school’s scores are low, the school must be bad. Didn’t the delegate assembly reject exactly that premise just two weeks ago?  Isn’t the battle against that very premise part of the battle to preserve public education?

I decide to skip the question.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 8.52.27 AM

Nope. They won’t let me leave it blank.

I try to check off “Community School”


Now we have another problem. They are serious about choosing two. I know what they want. They want me to push “more PD” – but teachers used to hate PD. And most NYC teachers still do. And I don’t think PD fixes schools. The best PD is voluntary, and out of the building. NYCDoE Professional Development is top down, and supervised. In some schools it’s gotten better, but it’s still neither what most teachers want, nor what most teachers need. And what is that “external support”?  And why are they asking teachers who are not in those schools about what teachers in those schools should have to go through?

Finally, I try clicking “proceed” with just “community school” checked off, and despite the warning it lets me move on.

But what is the union going to report? That most teachers want community schools and PD? Or, more honestly, given this limited list of options…

Where are the other options?

Where is “smaller class sizes?” Where is “more funding for after school activities and sports and clubs?” Where is “remove problem administrators?” Where is “more help, less rating?” Where is “repair our buildings?” Where is “build more schools?” Where is “allow principals to hire the best teachers without being penalized for preferring experience?” Where is “Other?” Where is “None of the above?”

Push polling doesn’t really fit with respecting teachers’ voices.


Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 8.36.19 AM

UFT Leadership digs in against Opt Out

April 14, 2015 pm30 12:49 pm

At last night’s (4/13/15) UFT Executive Board, President Mulgrew and another officer tested their newly aggressive stance against the opt out movement.

Some background:

When Andrew Cuomo finished ramming his new budget deal through the NY State Assembly and Senate, Mike Mulgrew wrote to UFT members (3/29/15):

Our hard work has paid dividends

Dear Jonathan,

In a rebuke to the anti-public-school agenda of hedge-fund billionaires, the state Legislature tonight reached agreement on a new budget and a package of education proposals that will immediately increase aid to public schools, ensure that teacher evaluations do not hinge on state test scores and ensure local oversight of struggling schools.

Just two months ago, Gov. Cuomo proposed a series of education proposals that amounted to a declaration of war on public schools. His plan was to use the incredible leverage he holds in the state budget process to ram through his plan.

And now all of our hard work is paying dividends. The governor’s Draconian agenda has, in large part, been turned back. We want to thank the Assembly and the Senate for standing up for our schools and school communities.

The membership was not buying. There was anger about almost every aspect of the deal. And then there was the testing. There is a growing “opt out” movement across the state. While largely concentrated in suburbs, a number of anti-testing organizations have been making inroads in New York City. Several city schools already have high opt out rates, and there will be more.

NYSUT president Magee issued a statement encouraging opt out. There must have been a ton of e-mails and calls to UFT headquarters. On April 1, just three days later,

What the state budget contains

Dear Jonathan,

Three months ago, Gov. Cuomo declared war on teachers and public education, resurrecting the battle we fought for 12 years with our previous mayor. Both have the same Wall Street allies determined to privatize education and eliminate teachers unions.

Given the immense power that the governor wields in the budget process, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We did not negotiate this budget agreement, but we supported Assembly Democrats in pushing back as many of his bad ideas as possible.

We took hits in this first battle but so did he, thanks to the extraordinary movement of public school parents, educators and community members that has emerged over the past few months.

The tone had certainly shifted. But would they move on testing and opt out?


At last night’s Executive Board Regina Gori (New Action), Chapter Leader of the Brooklyn New School (with a 90% opt out rate) asked how the union was planning to help teachers of conscience who did not administer state tests. The response was sharp.

  1. Refusing a direct instruction from your supervisor is insubordinate
  2. If we test less than 95% of our students, we could lose Title 1, Title 2, and Title 3 funding, which would cost jobs.
  3. Our allies in the Civil Rights Movement want annual testing. It has helped us learn where the system has problems.

When he arrived fifteen minutes later, Mulgrew used the second and third points in a long and slightly repetitive talk. (Those same points were raised by Al Sharpton in a NY Post interview a few days ago). Mulgrew additionally raised the specter of ten thousand lay-offs.

He went on to explain how the federal law could be rewritten to drop that 95%. He explained that we were different from other parts of the state.

The strategy he laid out had a few parts: engage with the Regents, negotiate a new evaluation immediately, wait for some federal change.

With the Regents, there will be a series of public hearings in NYC, and we should engage with them without shouting. I think he had in mind Merryl Tisch, who wrote most of Cuomo’s proposals, but who we are now looking to negotiate with. Unity leadership was quite defensive about Tisch through the winter and spring, even as it was clear that she was working at Cuomo’s side. I couldn’t figure out what they like about her. When we had three dozen schools on the block a few years ago, she did personally intervene to save Grady. Grady was Mulgrew’s old school.




Thank you, thank you, thank you

March 30, 2015 pm31 7:25 pm

I was glad to be at Saturday’s rally. It was the first larger UFT event I’d been to in some time. And I liked challenging Cuomo, though I wish we’d done it during the election.

About 15% of my chapter’s members turned out (it’s a small school, there were four of us). I talked to teachers from other schools, to parents, to a principal from a D2 elementary school. I saw union activists I know, and total strangers. United against the governor, against absurd evaluations. Most of us, except for a handful of union leaders, were also united against high stakes tests.

I left a little early. It was cold and snowy. And I missed my Saturday morning whitefish, and was cranky. As we passed the stage heading north, I saw a familiar face on the corner.  At twenty yards I shouted “thank you” to Zephyr Teachout, and I waved. She looked up, waved back, and smiled. Teachout challenged Cuomo for governor last year, and our union leadership snubbed her. But here she was, speaking forcefully at a UFT rally. She didn’t have to come, didn’t have to stand side by side with those who had taken the Working Families Party endorsement that was rightfully hers, and handed it to Cuomo, but she knew what was right. She spoke loud and true. AFT president Randi Weingarten made telephone calls during the campaign for Cuomo’s running mate, some woman named Hochul, but she didn’t come, Zephyr did. Thank you.

As I got to the southeast corner of 42nd and 3rd I saw a small cluster around an old guy. Robert Jackson. Hero of Public Education. Dewey Award Winner (UFT). Lion for the Children of NY. This is the guy who made the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit happen. And this fall, running for State Senate, the UFT leaders endorsed his opponent. Actually, NYSUT did. But that was with UFT support. So what does Robert Jackson do? He keeps fighting for public schools. He keeps fighting for the children of New York. And he keeps fighting shoulder to shoulder with the UFT, who abandoned him. His opponent, who the UFT endorsed? He was a no show. But Robert Jackson does what’s right. “Thank you” I smiled at him on the corner, and he smiled back and waved.

Finally we got to Grand Central, and coming out as we were coming in I saw Audrey. Audrey’s a freshman at Brooklyn College. Back when she was my student, I knew she was into environmental issues, but I had no idea she was going to be an activist. But here she was, with a large hand-made sign, ready to stand with teachers and parents and give it to the governor. “Thank you!”

No one took their attendance. No one forced them to come out. It was cold and snowy. No one would have blamed them for staying away. But they stood in solidarity. They spoke. Everyone who came out deserves a thank you. But I chose to thank these three.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.


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