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Specialized High Schools – I support public schools

June 12, 2018 am30 7:38 am

As I start rambling on about specialized high schools, I need a starting point. And here it is:  I am a strong supporter of public education. I support equity. I am anti-racist. I have a sense of fairness that is always on. But none of this is simple.

Public education in the United States – well, it doesn’t begin at the beginning. I mean publicly funded, publicly run, secular, unsegregated schools, roughly K-12 (though I’m not sure how we got to exactly those 13 years), with compulsory attendance. I don’t think we’ve ever had exactly that in this country. There’s not some “golden age” we can point to…  we think of the one-room schoolhouse, but that was protestant, not secular. And, AFAIK, the New England schoolhouse was spread to the midwest and then partially imposed on the south in the early, mid, and then late 19th century, unevenly and incompletely. (There’s a book called “Pillars of the Republic” by a guy named Kaestle that does a good job on this).  There were also little private tutoring schools (“Dame Schools”?) going back to the 18th century. And then with the rise of the big cities, charity schools, which give rise to our large urban schools. And these are sort of merged into an almost universal system. But golden age?  With segregation? With the vestiges of their religious origins?

And then there’s been a parallel system of religious (used to be mostly Catholic, but there’s quite a range now) and private (or “independent”) schools. So this has never been universal. And over the last two decades there has been the growth of the privately run “charter” schools.

All of this is to say that my support of “public education” is of an ideal, not of the way schooling takes place in the US today, certainly not in NYC today, and there’s not some golden model I can point to at some date in the past.

I think I’ll talk about equity and equality next.




New York City’s Specialized High Schools and Admissions

June 11, 2018 am30 7:11 am

New York City’s Specialized high schools are in the news;  Chancellor Carranza, Mayor de Blasio, and State Assemblyman  Barron have proposed changing how students gain admission to these schools. That proposal is stalled until January, which gives us time to discuss and reflect.

Most students who get placement in these schools do so by scoring high on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). In recent years the number of Black and Hispanic students admitted has dwindled . The “diversity” issue has generated occasional arguments and proposals over the last few years. But this proposal comes from the Mayor, and has been headline news…

There are eight schools that would be affected. I teach at one of them. In fact, 16 years ago, I was the founding math teacher at one of them. And the chapter leader for these 16 years…

I certainly have some thoughts on specialized high schools and admissions. And over the next few days I will be sharing them.

A maximizing area question

April 6, 2018 pm30 12:30 pm

I gave this question to students as a challenge at the end of a trig unit.

A quadrilateral has perimeter = 60 and a 30º angle. What is the maximum possible area?

I think this is cute. The kids had to make some assumptions, test them, and use trigonometry along the way. It’s not “open-ended” but it does involve some investigation, and it is not just a direct application of what I’ve taught them.

What’s your answer?

Do you like the question?

And do you know why “What is the minimum possible area?” is not a good question?

Pity Arizona

April 4, 2018 am30 9:05 am

Arizona’s men’s basketball team lost in the first round to 13th seeded Buffalo, who lost in the second round to 5th seeded Kentucky, who lost in the sweet sixteen to 9th seeded Kansas State, who lost in the elite eight to 11th seeded Cinderella Loyola of Chicago, who lost the semi-final to Michigan, who lost in the final to Villanova.  That makes Arizona the biggest loser of the tournament.

Consider this, Michigan could claim to be the second best team in the tournament – having lost to the eventual winner. Kansas, who lost in the semi’s to ‘nova, can make the same claim. Radford, who got shellacked by Villanova in the first round, could make the same (though far-fetched) claim. Arizona, uniquely, can claim nothing better than 7th. This tournament’s biggest loser. And at a 4 seed, perhaps the biggest biggest loser since Iowa earned some pity in 2006.

Previous biggest losers:

2018 – Arizona (4)
2017 – Mount Saint Mary (16)
2016 – Purdue (5)
2015 – New Mexico State (15)
2014 – Oklahoma (5)
2013 – Colorado (10)
2012 – Harvard (12)
2011 – Akron (15)
2010 – Oklahoma State (7)
2009 – California (7)
2008 – Belmont (15)
2007 – New Mexico State (13)
2006 – Iowa (3)
2005 – Winthrop (14)
2004 – Florida (5)
2003 – Dayton (4)
2002 – Boston University (16)
2001 – Princeton (15)
2000 – Appalachian State (14)




Telling the Truth

April 3, 2018 am30 11:12 am

A liar is someone who tells lies. That’s not the same as someone who always tells lies.

Can you imagine that? Someone who always lies, every single thing they say? That would lead to amusing logic puzzles:

– but not be very practical in the real world. In my life I’ve known two horrible liars. They have altered, twisted, falsified, subtly reimagined, or created from whole cloth story after story. “She wouldn’t tell the truth if a lie would do” said the mother of one of them. But both actually told the truth the majority of the time. What’s the weather like, are you hungry, do you have time later today… there are many mundane everyday answers that even the inveterate liar doesn’t bother to confabulate.

Many politicians are practiced liars – not as prolific as my two friends, above, but for them it is an art. They often tell the truth. And sometimes they have to tell the truth, a defensive truth, when cornered by their instinct for self-preservation.

New York State’s budget was delayed for a day last week, when Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder tried to exempt yeshivas from state testing standards. Felder is a Democrat from Brooklyn. He caucuses with the Republicans. And in the cesspool of New York State politics, no one better represents some of their constituents to the exclusion of the others than Felder, who is a champion for ultra-orthodox and Hassidim throughout the state (and beyond New York’s borders) at the expense of the non-Orthodox and non-Jews he nominally represents.

Felder has voted for “standards” again and again. They don’t really measure much, but they selectively pressure urban districts. Urban districts are poor, and they have large populations of Black and Hispanic students. “Standards” are a key component of the system that uses standardized tests to intimidate students, threaten teachers, and destabilize schools. Some of these include Felder’s own constituents – the ones he doesn’t represent. Felder has happily acted as part of the machine targeting other people’s kids.

But this was different. The State Education Department was planning for superintendents to visit private schools, including yeshivas. And they weren’t going to enforce “test accountability” that terrorizes the rest of us. They were going to check that the kids were receiving instruction in English, Math, and Civics.

Bravo Mr. Felder, for announcing that even the most minimal rules are to be enforced against strangers, not against our friends. Such honesty.



February 5

February 5, 2018 am28 8:08 am

Yesterday was my birthday. I woke up in Boca Raton, and had coffee in the sun, by the pool.

I engaged, a bit, in a conversation:  If there should be consequences for administrators who bring false charges against teachers, what should those consequences be?  It’s obvious that there SHOULD be an answer, but not as obvious what that answer should be.

I know how many ways a polygon can be triangulated (Catalan). But a student proposed investigating dividing polygons into a mix of triangles and quadrilaterals, or only quadrilaterals. I played with her questions and related questions on the plane home. To make a larger n-gon I made a rough circle and then spaced out the right number of points. I didn’t bother connecting them (since I only want diagonals, anyway, and since my sketches are not very neat). So it looked like I was drawing lines in circles. Flight attendant asked – he likes circles and was hoping this was geometry.

Arrived in a cold rain, and before I reached the bus stop my foot found a huge puddle. 54, in the book.

Lack of knowledge, lack of experience

October 22, 2017 am31 11:20 am

Chalkbeat pays young journalism majors with school reform money, and uses school reform money and influence (directly or indirectly) to gain access to sources. But this just doesn’t add up to real journalism, not when there is a lack of knowledge about New York City an New York State, a lack of knowledge about education in general, a lack of knowledge about teaching, even, quite frankly, a lack of knowledge about school reform. We end up with school reform cheerleaders, (who may in the case of the ‘reporters’ not know they are cheerleading – the ‘editors’ probably know).

But the lack of knowledge, the lack of experience, the lack of historical context, they all slip through.  Here’s an example from last week – “Traditionally, students have had to pass five “Regents” exams in order to graduate. ” How do they write that? Don’t they know that traditionally there were two kinds of diplomas, and that one did not require Regents exams? That in the late 90s school reformers pushed for doing away with the “local” diploma, and that there have since been 15 years of battles over trying to reopen some non-Regents pathway?

And when they whine that these are just details, notice that a regular local newspaper easily doesn’t screw up the details.

School reformers don’t believe that experience and knowledge matters for teachers. Glass houses. They don’t seem to believe that experience or actual knowledge matter for ‘reporters’ or ‘editors’ either.