ELL isn’t Language Instruction

I’ve only taught English once in a public school (a humanities class), but I’ve been teaching private instruction English for a decade. Language instruction it’s not. I took French for a few years, and vaguely remember having to study verbs, and verb forms. Something about subjunctives. Unlike my father, I’m terrible at all new languages that don’t tell computers what to do.

I thought teaching English as a language was more structured.  Start with common verbs, the “persons”–I eat, you eat, he/she eats, they eat. Then common nouns. Then put things together? Isn’t that how it works? In other languages?

But then, French teachers speak English. Or Russian. Or whatever their students’ native language is–and a French teacher’s students only have one native language. You don’t see French teachers in American classrooms playing to a class of Punjab, Chinese, Spanish, and English students. Nor is the French teacher expected to be utterly ignorant of Punjabi, Mandarin, Spanish and English–yet still teach the students French.

Yet here I am with six students, only two of whom have even minimal conversational English, with four native languages. I’m not supposed to teach them English like a French teacher teaches French. Nor am I supposed to teach them English or anything else in Spanish, Punjabi, Chinese, or French as it’s spoken in the Congo.

American schools have never taught the English language.  Many education reform folk–and most non-experts–glorify immersion, our original method of handling language learners. Dump kids in, let them learn the language. That worked, right? Well, maybe not. Lots didn’t learn.  They just dropped out. As Ravitch the historian (not the advocate) observed, America’s past success educating immigrants has been dramatically overrated. (The immigrants’ children did well, but why we can’t expect that today is a tad Voldemortean for this essay.)

Giving additional services to non-English speaking students  became a public education mandate with Lau vs. Nichols.  But after the Chinese Lau, the case history shows that all major bilingual court cases involved Hispanics.

First, the Aspira case built on Lau, as  New York City signed a consent degree to provide bilingual education to limited English Puerto Rican students until they could function in regular classes. This led to a de facto mandate for nationwise bilingual education, and created the infrastructure of support. Not the curriculum, of course. (Ha, ha! Heaven forfend!)

One of those court cases was also one of the heads of the hydra known as US vs. Texas , which has a long, controversial history much of it not involving bilingual education. But at one point presiding judge  observed that the “experts” were appalled that Hispanic ELL students had only to reach the 23rd percentile in order to be reclassified as fluent.  The kids would only be doing better than 1 in 4 kids, wrote the judge, which simply wasn’t enough to perform adequately in mainstream classrooms. The judge never considered that black students aren’t given all this additional support, despite similar or worse test scores. We still don’t.

Anyway, as a result of that court case,  many if not all of states require ELL students to be proficient on achievement tests before they can be reclassified.  Proficient.  Often above average. Not basic. Different states have different procedures, different standards, but “proficient” is usually mentioned. And remember that ELL is only nominally concerned with teaching non-English speakers, since ELL students are primarily citizens.   Kids are asked  if  English is the only language spoken at home. Those who say “no” get tested, and if they don’t test proficient, they get tagged ELL and stay ELL until they do.  Schools don’t care–arent’ allowed to care–if the student came to America yesterday, a decade ago, or through a womb.

As I’ve written before, in math as it is in English, elementary school “proficiency” is much easier to acquire than the skill required for high school. It is thus much easier to test out of  ELL elementary school, regardless of original language, than high school. Most elementary ELL students test out after two or three years. Those who don’t make it out are categorized “long-term ELL”, meaning they’ve been ELL for over five years and never made proficient. Left unsaid is that kids need a certain cognitive ability to hit those test scores.

Thus by high school, over half the long-term ELL students are US citizens, split evenly among second and 3rd generation Americans who consider English their native language but have  lower than average cognitive ability or some specifically verbal processing issues. These are the kids who weren’t able to meet the relatively low elementary school proficiency standards. The other 44% are foreign born kids who couldn’t test out in the first five years.  It’s unlikely that either group is going to escape ELL in high school.

Consider: the primary reason for sheltering ELL learners once they’ve achieved functional fluency is to avoid kids being stuck in long term ELL. But there’s no solution to the “problem” of long-term ELLS, save accepting it as an artifact of an entirely different attribute.

If you’re following my dispirited trail of musings, you might be wondering if the elementary school proficiency levels are so low, then shouldn’t some of the kids who escape ELL status early run into trouble in high school?”   And to quote Tommy Lee Jones: Oh wow. Gee whiz. Looky here! Many Reclassified ELLs Still Need English-Language Support, Study Finds and points out that this finding is consistent with past research.

If you aren’t following my dispirited traill of musings, you’re thinking this has nothing to do with my assigned task of teaching English to one African, two Chinese, two Mexican, and one Punjabi student.

Sorry, I’m just explaining why I don’t teach English language instruction in an English class of kids who don’t speak English.

ESL and bilingual education from its earliest days was never intended to instruct students in the English language. It was actually a means of directing funding to close the Hispanic achievement gap for English speaking Hispanics which–it was believed–was due to inadequate academic instruction in English.   ELL’s purported objective is to provide support to non-English speaking students until they are proficient. Its actual  purpose is, first, to define a category that reports the academic achievement of  primarily Hispanic US citizens of lower than average cognitive ability–the better to beat our schools up with. Second, the classes gives the kids something to do until immersion gives them enough English to be mainstreamed, or at least into a higher ELL class.

So just as before, ELL teachers don’t provide English language instruction. Kids don’t come to America with a six word vocabulary and take English 1, followed by English 2, then English 3, and then AP English because hey, now they’re fluent.

When I express the concern   that I’m not teaching the kids English, I’m just giving them vocabulary and grammar enrichment in a sheltered English class, other ELL teachers and the admins nod their heads approvingly and say “You’re doing a great job!” Because ELL is not about teaching the English language.

Then I look at these six kids–and really, they’re terrific. In an ideal world, I’d never question my assignment. They’re a joy to teach and I’ll do my best for them. But only one of them is a citizen. Collectively, they are consuming one third of three English teachers’ schedule–that is, one full-time position at our school is dedicated to giving language enrichment to five non-citizens. All across America you’ll find thousands of these sheltered classes, for kids who just got here and instantly given free and guaranteed access to small classrooms and support in lessons that may or may not teach them the language, but gives them something to do in school until their English gets good enough for academic instruction. Which will–again–happen outside these classes, because lord knows, we’re not involved in language instruction.

I think of the millions of citizen kids. Of the bright high schoolers who could use challenging enrichment, maybe digging in deep to a Milton sonnet because they have the ability to do something more than fake their way through interpretation in carefully modeled  Schaffer chunks.  Of the many citizen students from the bottom half of the cognitive scale who didn’t check the “another language spoken at home” box and thus are not given additional time and money….not to get higher test scores, but just spend time with a teacher reading them a story and talking about vocabulary and context at a level they can enjoy. Every day. Of the many citizens from the bottom half of the cognitive scale who are told for their entire k-12 education that their native language isn’t, in fact, their native language.

Of course, whether or not we should be spending this kind of money on non-citizens never comes up. All we ever debate is whether we should use immersion or follow Krashen’s dictates and instruct every 1 in 20 kids in their native language. See, dedicating one full English position to six kids is the cheap version, the one favored by conservatives and most taxpayers. Bilingual advocates want native language instruction, which would further reduce class size from six to one or two, in every language we run into in our public schools.  Of course, we don’t have enough qualified teachers in each language, but since we can’t have perfection, at least  it’s a great way to boost employment in immigrant communities. So not only do we spend more resources on the kids, but the schools often provide more employment to the communities. As for citizens, well, you know, being bilingual is important. You should have studied more.

The entire debate about bilingual education vs. immersion is a canard. Of all the many education debates that aren’t as they seem, none wastes as much time,  money, and resources as that of the ludicrously named English Language Learner.

No one is asking whether we should be doing this at all. Well. I am. But then, I’m no one.

Someone, somewhere, will furiously argue that I’m “pitting brown students against each other”.  No. That’s what ELL does. And not just to kids of color, either.

Cynical? Scratch the surface of any ELL program and see how far off I am. Don’t listen to what they say. Go look at what they do.

Not sure if this piece has a point.  In math, I don’t have to think of this too often.

At the end of the day, I remind myself that I like the job, the boss folks like what I’m doing, and regardless of what you call it, this is a hell of a lesson.


Twitter: A Choice, Not a Publication

Jim Ruttenberg is upset because Twitter isn’t policing itself like radio and TV did. Hatred spewed by “venomous” pseudonymous accounts–the new “white hoods”–is simply not rooted out and purged as it  should be. (Disclosure: Education Realist is not, in fact, my name.)

I’ve been around the online world, although not as Ed, for close to twenty years, which is a middling time. Usenet is forty years old, older than the the Web itself, older than the domain naming system, and the Great Renaming that created the notion of “alt” is thirty.  And for nearly that long, we’ve all known that  the news groups and every other online communication form invented has been used to promote racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and all the other bad isms. I don’t think Rutenberg wants us to believe that any of these opinions are new, although he doesn’t say so in that many words.

I wonder if Rutenberg has discussed this with Chris Cillizza, who has written two  different articles celebrating the death of blog comments, explaining that comments aren’t nearly as good as the superior, “self-policing” nature of Twitter.

I think it was Alex Russo who observed that Twitter has done a lot to kill comments sections. For the commenters, Twitter offers a much  bigger audience, freeing them from the blog’s limited readership. For the media organizations who abandon comments, the single biggest reason isn’t the aggravation from blowhards, but the cost. Comment curating is expensive, and leaves them open to free speech and consistency complaints.  Advertisers don’t value comments pages, or their views. So comments cost a lot in employees and bandwidth and don’t offer much.Twitter’s larger audience drives views and saturation –and it doesn’t cost the publishers a cent.

Journalists and other figures came to Twitter long before the their corporate owners did. They  willingly cast off the protections offered them by a media website without realizing the tradeoff. They can refuse to read their email. They can refuse to engage with the comments section. They can ignore all the the angry blog posts linking to their work.  Twitter doesn’t give them that option, and their publishers can’t protect them.

But they want Twitter. They want to compare follower stats and watch their popularity grow. They want the “viral” attention of a popular article.They want the increased visibility.  They want the rapid communication with their colleagues and experts. They even want the feedback of the many intelligent and committed readers. They want it all for free, the audiences that can rapidly join up and participate without the overhead of websites, domain names, and curation. They want to show their real selves to their loyal fans whilst still pretending to be unbiased in their “real” journalism.

They also want to look in on the little people to produce some of that “real” journalism or to further reinforce their professional status. Hey, I’ll just grab some “regular people” tweets for my article. Let’s see what the hashtag for the newest terrorist attack has in the way of color commentary. Or hey, look at this racist tweet–I’ll just tweet it out to my followers for shaming. Here’s a moron I can mock. Maybe it will go viral and I’ll look influential.  Or look, here’s a bathos-drenched Twitter conversation amongst rape victims that I can rewrite with little effort for lots of clicks, and I don’t need their consent.

Journalists and other elites routinely cull Twitter for content, whether to keep their followers happy, to fuel their causes, or to do something they think of as reporting or analysis.  Yeah, they want Twitter.

They just want Twitter without any risk of being called out,  mocked, and abused, because   calling out, mocking, and abusing people has been the media’s job for generations. It’s not supposed to go the other way.

When journalists left the confines of the media domain protection and set out onto the open range, they became the news, just like the little people. Because on Twitter, no one is little, or everyone is. Blue check or no.

Rutenberg calls Twitter a “new media development”. But Twitter is a communications medium, not a publishing empire. It’s the connective fiber, not the content. Twitter “publishers” don’t exist in a centralized form. Or, as one academic puts it, Twitter enables ambient journalism, in which the public doesn’t just receive the news and analysis selected by the gatekeepers, but participates in  “digitally networked” information generation in which news generation goes in multiple directions.

The problem isn’t Twitter. There aren’t any sentiments on Twitter that haven’t lived online since online existed, and before that  lived in print. But in a networked digital world, the journalists can’t filter.  Journalists aren’t wilting flowers. They’re used to criticism. But just as Twitter makes reporting on “the people” easier, so too does it make the people’s response a lot easier to deliver.

Jim Rutenberg calls for a “robust discussion” about Twitter’s danger to national discourse, even though he’s clearly aware that the platform has been around for a decade. He’s been a member for half that time.  Little late, Jim.

I am not excusing the Pepes, the gas chambers, the tweeted threats. Nor am I drawing any equivalencies between media mockery of their chosen targets and the *isms we can’t filter out now. My advice to journalists and other opinion folks: stop calling for purges. Stop castigating anonymity, as if ordinary people have nothing to fear from your prying eyes. Stop pretending that rudeness and nastiness actually dangerous. Stop demonstrating, once again, that you think you’re more important than the rest of us.

Stop feeling sorry for yourselves. Stay safe within the confines of your publisher’s website if you don’t want the abuse, and pay the price of a lower profile and a smaller audience. Twitter is your choice. But it’s not your property.



(Hey. Less than 1000. Sorry for breaking up my ELL series. But this has been on  my mind for a while.)



The Things I Teach

“OK, today in focus we’re going to read  Grandfather’s Journey together. We will find new words on each page, talk about vocabulary and meaning.”


“Me! I know!” Marshall waved his hands. “It is….the father of your father.”

“Also the father of your mother, right?” Charlotte asked.

“Abuelo?” Kit looked to Marshall.

“Yes, abuelo,” I nodded. “But what about journey?”


“I think it means hat,” offered Julian.

“Sombrero?” Kit was surprised.

“No,” I shook my head. “Journey means ‘trip’. It means…to travel. To go somewhere else.” Blank looks. I grabbed a white board and drew–badly–what I call in my history classes the Great American Porkchop with an airplane, also rendered poorly.


“Ahhh!!” Comprehension. They didn’t laugh. So don’t you mock my artwork.

Charlotte said, “So I took a….journey from the Congo?”

“I took a journey to India?” asked Amit.

“No. From.”

I pointed to “Here” on my sketch. “In a journey, your beginning point is from. Your end point is to.”

“So I came from China to America?” asked John.

“Use journey.”

“OK. I took a journey from China to here.”


“I…journey from Mexico to America.”

took a journey,” said Charlotte.

“Either. I journeyed from Mexico to America is good, or I took, or I made, a journey” is good. Kit?”

“I….took journey from Mexico to America.”

“Good! Sebastian.”

Long pause.

“Sebastian, put the phone away or you’ll lose it.”

“I journey from China to…here.”

Fun, clear learning, but five minutes had gotten me through two words.

“My grandfather was a young man when he left his home in Japan and went to see the world. He wore European clothes for the first time and began his journey on a steamship.”

“Look at the difference between Grandfather in the first picture and then on the steamship.”

“He is not wearing…same clothes.” from Amit.

“Oh! He is dressed like he is from Japan!” said Julian, “and now he is dressed like an American. Why is that European?”

“So does everyone see what Julian means? He is dressed in what we call traditional clothes. This story is about the past, yes? About a long ago time?” Nods. “Well, in this long ago time, Europe was more well-known than America. Today, Julian thinks of America before Europe. Today, probably the best word to use for this sort of difference is ‘Western’. Why would he want to dress in different clothes, Kit?”

Kit is quiet, particularly compared to Marshall, whose American aunt is really helping him develop skills. He paused. “He…belong?”

“He won’t be strange,” offered Charlotte.

“Yes, he wants to fit in, or assimilate. Good! Back to the book. The Pacific Ocean surrounded him.

“Océano Pacífico!” Marshall beamed. “That’s here.”

“Yes, and now we know the first part of his journey,” I walk over to the large wall map. “He left from Japan” (points) “and traveled across the Pacific Ocean. Where will he end up?”

“AMERICA!” chorused from all six.

“What does surround mean? Sebastian?” Sebastian tried to check with Julian in Chinese, but I stopped him. “He is on a boat, yes? In the Pacific Ocean? What would he see?”


“Amit, would he see land?” Amit was puzzled. I went back to the map, showing the trip. “He would be here. Would he see land?’

“No. Only water.”

“Yes. Surround means that everywhere you look, you see only one thing. It could be water. It could be people.”

“So what does ‘surround’ mean, Kit?”


“All around.” Sebastian.

For three weeks he did not see land. When land finally appeared, it was the New World.


“Kit, we just talked about days of the week. How many days in the week?”

“Seven,” jumped in Amit.

“Is that right, Kit?” Kit nodded. “So if the grandfather traveled for three weeks, and each week is seven days–and this is only for Kit–how many days did he travel?”

Kit clearly knew the answer, but needed time to put it in English. I held back everyone else with my hand, giving him time. “Vienti…no. Twenty. Twenty one.”

“Twenty one days on a boat?” Charlotte was skeptical.

“It was a steamship, which would be faster than sailing.” I googled up an image on my cell phone and held it up and walked around to give kids a look.

“Oh, so he didn’t fly on a plane,” Julian. “Twenty one days is a long time.”

“Yes. We can travel more quickly these days. That changes everything. Think about how different you would feel if you had to travel for twenty one days.”

“Please–I would travel more, yes?”

“Longer, not more. Yes, it is a longer journey from India.”

Sebastian was puzzling over the second sentence. “What is New World?”

“America,” Marshall offered.

“Yes, all America. North and South. Mexico is part of the New World. So is Canada.” Back to the map. “All of this.”


He explored North America by train and riverboat and often walked for days on end. So a riverboat is a boat that travels on a river, yes? Who can tell me what a river is? Kit?”


“Yes. Like the Mississippi, here on the map. It’s a…long.. you know? It’s long, but much skinnier than an ocean. Also, ocean is salt water. Rivers are in countries and are not salty.”

“Rio Grande!” from Marshall.

Amit looked confused. I googled “Punjab rivers” and then brought up an image of the Chenab to show him.”

“Oh! Yes. Rivers. Big. Punjab has many rivers. Five.”

“Charlotte is from Africa, which has the Nile,” said Julian.

Charlotte snorted. “The Nile is in Egypt. We have the Congo River.”


“What does explore mean?”

“Aagh!” Marshall smacked his head. “No sé cómo decirlo en Inglés (at least, that’s what Google says he said.) Uh, he looks at. No. Looks…deep.”

“Explore means to learn about…to study. No…is that it?” said Charlotte.

“Yes, Marshall and Charlotte have it right. Explore means to learn about a new place, a new idea–or maybe something you already know a little bit about. Marshall says ‘deep’, to go deep into a subject. Good work! Now, think about that with journey.”

Julian said, “So you go on a journey to explore.”

“Outstanding. Let’s put it in the story terms. We are reading a story about the author’s grandfather, who has crossed the….”

“Pacific Ocean” they chorused.


“explore America!”

“Good! Deserts with rocks like enormous sculptures amazed him.”


“What is ‘amazed’?” asked Charlotte.


“I don’t know. What is a sculpture?”

“it’s art formed out of a hard material–rock, or metal.” I googled “rock formations America” and held up the results one by one. To a kid, they all gasped in…

“Yes. You see that feeling? That is amazed. See how you are all thinking oh, how beautiful. How you didn’t know about such beauty. It’s when you see something good…or bad..or just different. But something you didn’t expect. So when you came to America, what amazed you?”

“The food,” offered Charlotte instantly. “I was..amazed at how much food. How much you could eat..how much you could have. It is wonderful.”

“I was amazed that you can take cellphones to class. But mostly that you can ride bikes on the road, with cars,” from Julian.

I chuckled. “Yeah, that’s a quick way to die in China, huh?”

“Here the cars have to stop!”

“See Julian’s behavior, guys? He is acting amazed. Sebastian, what amazed you about America?” Sebastian clearly understood the question, but said something in Chinese to Julian.

“Oh, that’s true,” Julian turned to me. “He said..oxygen. You can’t see it here.”

“The air! Yes, the air in America is so much cleaner, so much clearer, is that it?” Sebastian nodded. “So can you put that in a sentence?”

“I was amazed at the clean air in America.”

“Good! Back to the book. The endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he crossed. Endless? Kit?”

“No stop?”

“Keeps on going.” said Marshall. “But what is field?”

“A field is an open space, a big one. A farm field is an open space used to grow food.” I googled corn fields and wheat fields .  We determined that the grandfather was seeing wheat fields in this picture.

“So the author is making a comparison. Just as he traveled across the Pacific for twenty-one days, surrounded on all sides by water, so too did these fields seem to go on forever.”

“Like an ocean,” said Max.

“Yes. See how the author drew the fields to look like an ocean, surrounding the grandfather? Huge cities of factories and tall buildings bewildered and excited him.


“Who can tell me what bewildered means?”

Amit, galvanized, pulled out his phone, looked at me for permission. I nodded, and he handed me the results.

“Oh, perfect!”

“Ah!” the class chorused. They all got it at once.

“So bewilder means to confuse you, to see or experience something that fills you with questions. Nice job, Amit.”

“I…feel bewildered a lot.” Amit replied, and everyone nodded.

“Welcome to America!” laughed Chancelle.

He marveled at the towering mountains and rivers as clear as the sky.


“But ‘tower’ is like a building,” puzzled John.

“Maybe the mountains are big, like tower,” offered Max.

“Yes, that’s it. Like a tower. He’s comparing the mountains to a tower, like this.” and I googled some towering buildings. “See? What does marveled mean?

Kit muttered something.

“What? Could you say it again?”


“Ah, yes, like…” Max, like me, uses his hands to fill in blank spaces.

“Would you say marvelous is like amazed?”

“Yes!” Charlotte beamed. “They mean the same thing!”

“Close to it. So notice, let’s page back. The author said his grandfather is amazed, excited, and that he marveled. All of these words have similar meanings. So the author is creating…making a mental image for you.”

“The grandfather is seeing many things that surprise him but…they are good things,” Julian nodded.

“Please–the words mean the same?”

“Not every word, Amit–but amazed…do you see, go back? Amazed and now to the cities page. Excited and now the mountains page…marveled. Everyone see those words? They all have very similar…very close meanings.”

“But not ‘bewildered’.”

“Good! Bewildered is something different. That’s why the author writes yet .See that small word? Yet means that he was confused but still feeling…”

“He is confused but happy he is seeing all this.”

“Exactly! Going on: He met many people along the way. He shook hands with white men and black men, with yellow men and red men. In Japan, would he have seen only other Japanese people. Julian, Sebastian, did you see people who weren’t Chinese before you came to America?”

“No,” Sebastian shook his head. “Only…movies.”

“Only in movies. Charlotte, Congo is mostly black people, but there are some white people there, too, right?”

“Yes, also Chinese. Not…many. But some Chinese.”

“Chinese people in Africa?” John couldn’t believe it.

“Yes, Chinese people are starting to build businesses in Africa.  Asia and Africa are less diverse–they are mostly one race. Well, not North Africa.”

“Yeah,” Charlotte nodded emphatically. “Egypt, Libya, they… have more types. More races. More…mix.”

“Mexico, too,” said Max, and Kit nodded.

“Yes. North and South America have had more than one race for many years–because we’re the New World. Many people from different places came here. Mostly white in North America at first, but still blacks and Hispanics, and even some Asians. But Asia, particularly East Asia, doesn’t see many differences.”

“India has many types,” said Amit.

And the bell rang. Nine pages.

Debrief and other thoughts soon.

Defining the Alt Right

Am I of the alt right?

Last spring, I thought the answer was ‘yes”. I figured it was the new name for the “Dark Enlightenment” or neo-reaction.  I’m barely right of center, having travelled that long road from barely left of center over the past fifteen years, so my membership is more of an adoption than a joining. But others would (and have) put me there.

The ensuing discussion has  left me pretty sure the answer is “no”. I don’t read Breitbart or Ann Coulter, much less Stormfront, 4chan, Richard Spencer, or Jared Taylor of American Renaissance. “Cuckservative” and “mudshark” are not in my vocabulary, much less my ideological framework.  I didn’t even know who Milo was until a few months ago, when I read his treatise. I only use one parenthesis on each side, solely to denote a diversion or clarification on the sentence’s main point. I don’t tweet out pictures of gas ovens or frogs.

Notice that I exclude myself based on behaviors. Because everyone is clear on what the alt-right does. Journalists and political writers don’t like the behavior one bit. They want it to stop.

What the alt-right believes, what opinions they hold, is a different matter, where no clear agreement is found. I’ve only seen three pieces, two of them recent, that are well-reported, well-sourced, and  make a sincere effort to accurately represent the alt-right.

Dave Weigel’s otherwise solid analysis  linked Steve Sailer and Jared Taylor as “alt right” or “race realists”, which made me very nervous. Yes,  Steve is an influential writer at Taki and VDare, and I thought he was well-represented in that piece. But Steve is a writer whose primary sin is that of noticing, as he often says. He’s snarky and sarcastic and occasionally brutal, but if he’s a racial separatist, the sentiments don’t make their way into his writing. Jared Taylor is a political activist with explicit goals of giving individuals and businesses the legal right to self-segregate. If these two are in the same region, it should be a very large one. Weigel makes it sound small.

A December piece by Rosie Gray  that I reread after listening to her on NPR does the best job of capturing “alt-right” beliefs. Jared Taylor, who I heard for the first time on that same NPR show, strongly approved of Gray’s work and didn’t mention anything about  the reassuring (to me) fact that Gray omits Steve Sailer. She gives  plenty of space to some major players in what is clearly a fringe movement, capturing both the beliefs and the behavior, while allowing conservative pro-Trump folks like Coulter and Limbaugh a chance to clarify whether or not they were part of the alt-right, rather than just assuming it.    I learned a few things–that The Cathedral , as Moldbug calls it, is  their Synagogue,  and how “echo” links to the multiple parentheses.  Gray even explains the frog.

Up last is my favorite of the three alt-right descriptions by TA Frank,  How the Alt Right Became the Party of Hate. While Gray reports from the inside, Frank examines the movement’s path from unknown to mainstream, spotting this Evan Osnos piece as the initial piece connecting Trump to the alt-right, and  pointing out that Breitbart is “nowhere near” the alt-right, linked to them only through its “biggest provocateur, Milo”. Frank’s piece often delights, for example: He was not reading Carl Schmitt. Neither is Bannon. And neither is the 70-year-old billionaire for whom Bannon is now working. (Trump’s staffers would be lucky to get their boss to read his own policy papers.)

But more importantly, from my admittedly self-absorbed perspective, Frank likewise portrays the “alt-right issue” as one of different regions. The alt-right–white-nationalist, anti-Semitic, democracy doubting– is fringe, a tiny country with rocky terrain and few  friendly neighbors. Another region, according to Franks, is white resentment and tension as more whites struggle economically, while  thanks to continuing progressive disparagement makes them feel under attack. In my geography the men’s rights movement, neoreaction, the Dark Enlightenment proper, all live here. This region is, I believe, consistent with what Breitbart writer Milo considers the alt-right–and, possibly, accounts for the behavior problems mentioned above.

The third region contains the people who notice and describe the denial ferociously practiced by those responsible for our nation’s social policies. In this world lives Ron Unz, hbdchick, Razib Khan, Jason Richwine, JayMan, Greg Cochrane, VDare magazine (I think), John Derbyshire, Steve Sailer, and, yeah, me. People in this space have either suffered professionally for their opinions and writings, or are anonymous because  they fear repercussions. But it’s their opinions, not their political objectives or behaviors, that are at issue.

The three regions don’t overlap much. The first two read the third, but the reverse is less common. The first two are safely described as alt-right. The third is the one that is cause for disagreement.

What binds the three regions, why they think of themselves as related in some way, is not anti-Semitism, not racism, (or “race realism”),  not men’s rights, not separatism, not political objectives. I can’t stress this enough.

The common factor is utter disdain for the aforementioned  Cathedral, the fortress-like canon controlling the dogma of the neighboring region called The Mainstream.

Few literally think of the elite Cathedral as a religion, but the paradigm is the most effective metaphor to describe its impact. Frank calls it “a rebellion against political correctness” but  that term seems a tad mild to describe the rigidity of the canon that excludes, or seeks to exclude, all contrary thoughts.  Jon Chait, for example, complains about political correctness, but he’s a paid up member of the Cathedral.

Well within mainstream regional boundaries are the Breitbart reporters other than Milo, Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus, and Mark Krikorian.  Most agree that just being a Trump supporter isn’t sufficient to qualify, so they go here as well.

Thus, agreement on what the alt-right does, and what the alt-right isn’t, and the three articles above should give people a decent start on figuring out what alt-right is.

Who is in and out of the alt-right becomes less a matter of academic inquiry when the GOP starts calling to exclude them from the party. Jonah Goldberg–a writer I’ve liked and read for nearly two decades–wants to “John Birch” the alt-right, defined thusly:JGaltright

So Goldberg wants to purge the tiniest of these regions, the people who want to segregate by race, the “white supremacists”.

But hang on a sec. Didn’t the GOP say “no” to white supremacists a long time ago?

(Pause. Note that Democrat and Republican answers to this question…..vary.)

Any attempt by the GOP to purge itself is probably doomed to fail. Some day soon, an earnest mainstream media folk is going to ask Jonah Goldberg why he’s friendly with Charles Murray. Jonah will protest in outrage, arguing that Charles Murray isn’t a racist. I absolutely agree.  Murray is also brilliant, and someone I find personally generous with feedback and helpful data despite my lamentable support for Trump, a candidate he  ferociously rejected from the escalator on.

But that’s besides the point. “Murray the racist” is an article of faith  held by far too much of the mainstream academia and media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, commonly (and, in my opinion, ludicrously) cited by major outlets as an objective think tank on racist organizations,  says that Charles Murray is a white nationalist. Murray is  more than just a member of my ideological region, he’s the patron saint of many within the land, one of the people who attracted us to the cause, as it were, and much beloved (until his Trump heresy) of the neighbors Taylor, Spencer, and heartiste.  Jonah Goldberg calling for a purge of white nationalists leads right to Murray.

And so it will go, forever. The media, academia, the Dems, and even portions of the GOP media, will seek to define the alt-right as anyone in violation of the Cathedral, growing the region larger and larger,  enveloping Coulter, Kaus, Krikorian and anyone else who can be discredited and shut down. The distinct regions I carefully described above matter to me and many others but certainly not everyone. If both parties with access to the megaphones start purging, I don’t think Jonah Goldberg will like where it ends up.

Defining the alt-right isn’t just “a” problem. It’s the problem, because, as Mark Leibovich said just recently, no one agrees on “the curve”. We, as a country, disagree on what constitutes bigotry, intolerance, and the big R. The public–and I mean the public, not white folks–is dramatically out of synch with the media on this issue, but the media and other elites have vehement internal disagreements on this point as well.

I suggest we reframe it as an opportunity, and in this I’m joined by TA Frank:


Am I of the alt-right? As a practical matter, using the definition most agree to,  no. I hold to the Voldemort View and the wisdom of Philip K. Dick. I’m an immigration restrictionist and Trump supporter. I’m a nationalist, not a white nationalist. I’ve lived in more racial diversity my entire life than the vast majority of elites preaching its value can even conceive of.  I don’t live in the same ideological region as Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, or heartiste and men’s rights advocates. That’s a difference that won’t matter to the media, which is why I’m anonymous.

At the heart of this semantic debate, of course, lies more than words and ideas themselves, but our visions for the country. Jared Taylor said in the interview above that he doesn’t want America to be an experiment. Too bad. The United States has been an experiment since its founding.  But a successful experiment requires parameters, careful hypotheses, and data showing results. It requires open inquiry, skepticism, challenges.

Instead, our society’s elites  are refusing to stop and take stock, evaluate the conditions. They refuse to consider control groups.  They go further and simply reject results they don’t like, and then shut down any attempts to challenge their findings.1

Defining the alt-right requires acknowledging that many among us view the recent years of the American experiment with skepticism, some with outright rejection. Such an effort would, I think, serve as an important balance to the excesses that it’s safe to laugh about now but might just be added to the list of behaviors our high priests check for (gender pronoun usage, kneeling for the anthem).  Certainly many would learn that many unacceptable beliefs (IQ differences in racial groups, gender biology) are routinely accepted as fact by the quieter, science-based members of academia. Or, as  Steven Pinker’s famous smackdown goes: What Malcolm Gladwell calls a “lonely ice floe” is what psychologists call “the mainstream.”

The media is filled with people bewailing this miserable election. I’m excited, regardless of outcome. Our leaders, policymakers, and journalists have been forced to face how little their opinion matters to the people who have little say but their votes. That realization can lead to many valuable and, with luck, productive conversations.

Best of all, their ability to stop the conversations is diminishing, day by day.

(added later: I’ve gotten enough comments to know my regular readers understand this piece. But Jonah Goldberg‘s response made me go wait, what?

I am not advocating an embrace of the alt-right. I am observing strategic and semantic problems with trying to purge them. By all means, give it a try. I’m happy to be wrong. But my primary point is, literally, to define who is and is not the alt-right and to join with TA Frank in calling for a more open discourse. If you think “open discourse” means “talk to Nazis” then you aren’t clear on how much debate and information is forbidden at risk of economic or career disaster. So for now, just accept that I do not advocate giving the mic to Nazis, people who tweet images of gas ovens, or those use the term “mudshark”–never mind those who advocate ending democracy or using violence.  And for now, accept that many are concerned about legitimate discourse being shut down. If this translates to you as “embrace Nazis or racists” then accept you have an experience gap beyond the scope of this essay.)


1And not just on the right–see Fredrik deBoer for a look at what the alt left thinks is wrong with the country (sadly, he shut down his blog a month ago, but his essays are still there).

2Note to my followers on Twitter and my readers here: I realize that many of you are not Trump supporters, not “of the alt right”, and very often not GOP.  I appreciate everyone who takes the time to engage with my ideas  and am glad that online–as in real life–I’m able to maintain my connections to people of a wide range of political and social beliefs.

Charters: The Center Won’t Hold

I’m pleased to see more articles agreeing with my assertion that ed reform as we know it may be over.

But as I mentioned in the previous piece, charters live! Choice is good! Even the Trumpster, who clearly doesn’t much care, offers up choice like puppy chow and–wisely–using it in his appeals to black voters, as a contrast to Hillary’s doubling down on teacher unions.

Why, in the face of so much rejection, do charters still have such great numbers?1

I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.

They are right to worry. Before I became a teacher, I’d read other teachers talk about how just a few kids can really disrupt a classroom, moving management from a no-brainer to the primary focus of the day. Now I am one of those teachers. I’ve worked in several schools in which the overwhelming presence of low income students who didn’t care about their grades has utterly removed the “stigma of an F” from the entire population, causing panic in the upper middle income white parents who can’t quite afford private school yet live in a district that worries about lawsuits if they track by ability. Their kids, particularly the boy kids, start to adopt this opinion, and white failure rates start rising.

So charters become a way for parents to sculpt their school environments. White parents stuck in majority/minority districts start progressive charters that brag about their minority population but are really a way to keep the brown kids limited to the well-behaved ones. Low income black and Hispanic parents want safe schools. Many of them apply for charter school lotteries because they know charters can kick out the “bad kids” without fear of lawsuits. But they still blame the “bad kids”, not the teachers, which is why they might send their kids to charter schools while still ejecting Adrian Fenty for Michelle Rhee’s sins.

As I’ve mentioned before, education reformers are now pushing suburban charters with strong academic focus, which are nothing more than tracking for parents who can’t get their public schools to do it for them.

I really can’t stress this point enough: charters have succeeded because of their ability to control students, not teachers. 1

Most people disagree with me on the purpose of public education. The entire discourse of education reform begins with the conceit that public education is offered to parents instead of taxpayers. I think we need to do more to support parenting, particularly in two couple, employed families, but public education is what we do to try, at least, to ensure that the subsequent generation is functional, while minimizing the impact on taxpayers.

Ultimately, charters will be bad for taxpayers. Yes, yes. I know that right now, they’re cheaper than public schools, because they use a lot of philanthropist dollars and teach cheaper students. They also save money by using and discarding new teachers, so salaries stay low. Many charters use the same pay scale as the local district, despite all their talk of merit pay.

But bet on charter teachers unionizing, despite best efforts to stop the efforts. Along with LA, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and other cities, more charter schools are organizing. It’s going to be very difficult to stop charters from unionizing. What do charters offer? Maybe more pay if the principal likes you. But definitely longer hours. Moreover, if a charter school is short on teachers, it can just take away preps, add more classes to schedules without being the need for more pay. It’s no surprise that the charter union movement starts in urban environments. But it will spread, almost certainly.

And over time, charters will almost certainly be forced to provide more access, take more students who require mainstreaming, face legal action over expulsions. All the perks they now have will slowly siphon away, particularly in those areas that achieve their dream of total charter domination. Just ask the charter advocates in New Orleans, the first all-charter city. At first, charters were able to reject special ed students, or counsel them out. But a major lawsuit has set up some specialized schools and also required more of charters. Expulsions are down, too, once the process became centralized. More and more, New Orleans is facing questions about its “opportunity youth” (aka dropouts) and whether an entirely charter district makes it easier to lose track of students.

Charters simply can’t scale. Their success relies on traditional public schools picking up the slack. But their proponents are determined to kill those traditional public schools.

So urban public schools will continue to bleed the strongest students to charters, but will still face the higher costs associated with the most expensive students and the salaries that come along with teachers who stay put, rather than leave after a couple years. States will continue to foot the bill for both charters and district schools. So a state has X kids that used to be covered by A schools, B teachers, and C administrators. Now, the state will still have X kids, but M new schools, which means that B and C go up as well. Right now, some of those costs are covered by philanthropists, but that will change. Right now, some of those teachers are cheaper, but that will change. (The administrators get paid more than district schools.) Busing kids to their “choice” schools will cost more money if choice is required.

The lawsuits on special ed access and expulsions will continue. Data tracking on dropouts and “lost” kids will improve. Ultimately, the abuses will be curbed. And of course, despite carefully massaged talk about improved test scores, the public will realize that black and Hispanic kids are still doing poorly on college admissions tests.

All choice won’t offer any cost or quality improvements unless a) teachers are banned from unionizing, b) parents and advocacy organizations are barred from lawsuits, and c) schools are allowed to let unmotivated, low-skill kids drop out.

Yeah, good luck with that.

New Orleans is a decent indicator of the future “all-charter” paradise. Once all the schools are charters, the charters are forced to acknowledge that their secret was “better” students, not “better” teachers. Autonomy, decentralization, higher standards, parental contact, “firing bad teachers”–none of those close the achievement gap.

In fact, “bad schools” exist because black and Hispanic kids, on average, get lower scores than white and Asian kids for reasons that don’t involve superior teachers or even superior parents, for reasons that have thus far remained unrelentingly resistant to change. Kids with lower scores, regardless of race, are harder to teach and less interested in education, on average, and more likely to disrupt classes. Therefore, schools with disproportionately black or Hispanic kids are going to have lower scores and more disruptive classrooms.

While the low test score problem isn’t, as yet, fixable, the disruptive student problem is a different story. That’s the problem that charters actually address, while bragging about improving test scores, which they don’t (in any meaningful way).

The entire charter narrative is written by people who realized that public policy wants to ignore reality. The policy makers are pretending that schools can be improved. Charters allow them that pretense.

Meanwhile, the parents are intent on improving their childrens’ peer groups, and, if they can’t afford to use private schools or geography to achieve this aim, they’ll grab happily at charters, even though most are aware that the policy makers are hyping false promises.

One way or another, I don’t see the center holding. I think the end of ed reform will tilt the balance of power to public schools. But if it tilts the other way, if more cities follow New Orleans to all charters, then I expect things to get much more expensive, teacher scarcity to become even more of an issue, and a greater willingness to let kids fall through the cracks.

I’m really fine with being wrong, though.

1This chunk of text through the second subscript was originally written as part of my response on the CTU strike, almost four years ago. The post is prescient, I dare say, in that I was starting to see the failure of the reform movement. But the second half of the post has nothing to do with the strike and is one I refer back to often. But I can never remember where I put it. So since it’s a slow month, I’m giving it its own post with some extra thoughts at the beginning and end.

Graduating My Geometry Class

In the fall of 2012, I began my first year at this school. First block, first day, I met a group of 29 freshmen in their first high school math class: geometry.  From the beginning, we all clicked. A new school didn’t seem quite so intimidating because every day of that first semester started with camaraderie and good times–and some learning, too.

Three freshmen left the school mid-term. All but one of the rest passed. Eleven Asians (1 east, 3 south,4 south east, 3 mideast), nine whites, seven Hispanic , one black. Five Muslim. No long-term ELLs, one suffered from near-blindness. Ten athletes who played their entire high school careers,  including two who eventually got scholarships. The eventual senior prom queen. All those who passed made it through trigonometry, at least. Most made it to pre-calculus. Only a few made it to Calculus or AP Stats, although at least three talented students were derailed by an F from Mr. Singh , which I found frustrating. All of them are going to college. They reflected the school’s population writ large: diverse, athletic, not overly focused on academics, but smart enough to get it done.

One student I never saw again: the feckless, charming girl who failed all her classes by treating school as social hour continued to frustrate her father, who brought her away from the Philippines and her mother, hoping he could prevent a pregnancy before a high school diploma. Another student I just didn’t run into much.

Four others were likewise never in one of my classes again, but I saw them frequently; they’d always shout a greeting across the quad, identifying themselves because they know I never wear my glasses.

The remaining twenty saw me in at least one subsequent math class. Five saw me twice more. None seemed to mind.

In all our frequent chats, literally up through their June graduation, we’d regularly refer to “that first geometry class”.  Our touchstone memory, kept alive through four years of their education.

One of my “three-timers”, a sweet, tentative young man  who never had another math teacher until pre-calc, stopped by with his yearbook. As we thumbed through the senior pages, calling out familiar faces, he suddenly said,”Man, I bet you’ve taught most of the seniors at least once.”

We counted it together—of the 93 rows of four students each, I’d taught 288 of them, or roughly 75%. Many–at least fifty–more than once.

In the face of that percentage, I decided it was time to work around my dislike of crowds, speeches, and heat in order to represent on their big night. So at 4:30, I showed up to help assemble them for the procession.

At first, the seniors were gathered in informal groups outside the staging area, taking pictures, talking, dancing about impatiently. Many called me over or waved, shouting out their names because they know my sunglasses aren’t prescription.

As they moved into the cafeteria for the staging, I wandered around, touching base, asking about plans, saying goodbye. As I’d expected, they needed teachers to organize the alphabetized lines for the procession, so I took a list of twenty. Rounded them up, hollered them into line, while the fourteen students I’d taught before joked that in less than three hours they’d never have to listen to me again. “And that’s why you became a teacher!” a bunch of them chorused.

Finally, the graduation manager gave the sign for zero hour. Suddenly well-behaved and serious, they streamed out in order, paused for a few minutes at some inevitable delay, and then the music started. Their procession took them by the stadium’s fence along the security road; I stood about 15 feet away by a barrier and put on my prescription glasses, even in the sun, the better not to miss any face. Waved and cheered at brand new adults who waved and cheered back, glad I was there, happy to see me, happy that I was wearing my glasses and could see them.  And when the last student–one of mine–turned for one final smile, I decided that the graduation itself, the heat, the speeches, the names, would dull the joy I felt in this moment. Time to go.

As I walked back to the Starbucks where I’d parked my car, latecomers were hustling to the stadium, many holding signs and pictures. I saw pictures I knew, stopped to congratulate the parents and send them on their way. And suddenly:

“Hey, it’s my geometry teacher!”

I looked at the pretty, lively young woman holding a…toddler? infant? gurgling happily walking towards me, waving. Smiled, running through the names of the only other geometry class I taught and coming up blank.

“You don’t remember me? I’m Annie!” and I gasped.

“Oh, my god. Annie! I thought…I haven’t run into you for so long…you didn’t go back to live with your mom? I don’t think I’ve seen you in..three years? I didn’t recognize you. You’re all grown up!  How’s your dad? You look fantastic. And how’s this little guy? How old is he, fifteen months?”

“Nope, just nine months.”

“He’s gorgeous. How are you? Come to see the grad…well, duh, yes.”

She laughed, and hitched the baby to her other hip. “It’s great you came! I still think about that geometry class. It was so fun!”

“I wish I’d run into you more. Go, get going, you don’t want to be late. Take care of this adorable one. I’m happy to see you.”

“Me, too. Take care. Bye!” and off she went, striding confidently into her future. I watched her, thinking of all the questions I wanted to ask: did she graduate? Go to our excellent alternative high school? Is the baby’s dad in the picture? What are your plans? and being so very glad I didn’t.

I resist presenting Annie as a tragedy. I didn’t feel guilt, watching her walk away.  But I did feel…awareness, maybe? I’m good with unmotivated underachieving boys. Am I as good with girls? Could I be reach out more? Give them reasons to try, to play along?

“You should never be satisfied. You can always do better.”

I remember telling that ed school professor that the two sentiments don’t follow. I am satisfied. I can try to do better.

Goodbye, class of 2016.

Goodbye, geometry class. Next year is my first without my touchstone group. I’ll miss you.

I want you to go forth and live happy, productive lives. Please know that for the past four years, your presence has been a big part of mine.



What I Learned: Years 4-7

I was going to continue my year by  year  (by year) retrospective, but I decided that the last four years can be considered as a block. Which is good, because if I did a post per year I’d never catch up.

tl;dr Years 4-7 were all about happiness.

I began at this school in late August of Year 4, just a week or so before school began.  Utterly desperate for work, I would have accepted any offer, anywhere in a 35 mile radius and really, by late August, 50 mile drives weren’t out of the question.  That I got my first choice, a school that had actually offered for me the year before, seemed almost a miracle.

And really, I’ve been happy ever since. Teaching has always been a joy. The previous schools, with all the challenges, never dented my belief in my own abilities or the faith that kids were benefiting from my teaching. But at the other schools, the administrators didn’t agree. It’s not that they thought I was a bad teacher. I just wasn’t what they wanted–someone younger, ideally.  Here, for the first time since student teaching, my bosses also thought I was a darn good teacher. May this bliss last at least eight years more.

So in those four years, what changes and accomplishments can I point to?

Teaching Persona

As mentioned in Year 3 retrospective,  I’d begun to establish the same ambiance in my school classrooms that existed in my test prep and enrichment instruction classes. At this school, the process was complete and I never looked back. From day one, I was unpredictable, flexible, friendly, ruthlessly sarcastic, and damn funny, which is where I live the rest of the time. The second year there, I introduced a meme: I am the star of my classroom.  I get a guaranteed audience three or four times a day. It is in my contract. Students are the audience. Their job is to attend. If they’re lucky, they might get some lines. A walk on part. But mostly students are to watch. To listen. Eh…learning would be nice, but that’s up to them.

Someone somewhere is going to take this as a serious statement of priorities, rather than a mindset. Remember that I spend very little upfront time teaching. It’s more of an attitude. It allows me to be big, overblown, demanding attention, dammit, whether you learn or not. Students enjoy the spin on the usual pay attention because education is good for you. Hell with that, kids, your attention is good for me.

I count it as a good sign that I’m regularly in the Teacher Awards section of the yearbook, and for fun things: Storyteller, Unpredictable, Mostly Likely to Lose Whiteboard Eraser. May that, too, extend through the next eight years. I’m a geek; popularity is a nice change.

Building Curriculum–Never Be Satisfied

I vividly remember in the spring of year 4, my first year at this school, when I was looking ahead to linear inequalities. I was just about done with my new method of modeling linear equations which had now gone well twice in a row (remember, this school does a year in a semester and then repeats).

But at the time, I did little more than go through the procedures on linear inequalities, and felt a twinge of shame the first semester, as we moved from a unified modeling approach to…here’s how you test a value.  And suddenly, out of the blue, I remember my ed school professor saying “You should never be satisfied. You can always do better.”

At the time, I rolled my eyes. She was saying this in the context of our first year of teaching, to never feel satisfied. I think this is absurd. “Good enough” is fine a lot of the time. But at this moment, I realized it could apply to an entire career (and in fairness to the professor, that’s probably what she meant.)

So I challenged myself in that moment to come up with something different. How could I introduce  linear inequalities in such a way that would build on the linear equations, while showing their differences? I still use the methods I built that day, although I’ve developed them somewhat.

But from that point on, I always take that moment, that wince away from a piece of curriculum I don’t like. What can I rebuild? How can I make it better? I’m not a perfectionist, not a driving careerist, definitely not hard-charging in approach. (my affect and opinions, whole different deal.) Just one of many ways in which my pricey ed school degree has transformed me well after the fact.

I’ve written about many other curriculum improvements over time. All of these were done with that same spirit of yeah, the old way wasn’t working, let’s try this:

I’ve completely reworked quadratics and exponents as well, but haven’t written them up. It’s been fun.

I don’t have one approach to curriculum, but if I have a go-to process, it’s the “illustrating activity” or problem, which can be seen here in the Projectile Motion writeup, or this lesson on proving the pythagorean theorem and geometric mean activity. I began to write it up as part of this entry, but decided no, do a separate post. (I do apologize for my scarce blogging lately.)

Classroom Ambiance


This is the first time I had my students “work in the round”, which is how you’ll find my class at least 12-15 days a month since then. My current classroom has whiteboards all the way around. The walls have a 5 x wall-length strip of white board paint (which is really cool). I have small white boards with coordinate planes etched in. I also have a wonderful donor who sends me $100 worth of whiteboard pens every year, so the kids can always be working on a big surface, with plenty of room for mistakes.

There must be whiteboards.  Working constantly in class, moving around, reduces the risk of math zombies. Earphones are allowed to shut out the noise, provided I don’t see the student enjoying the music more than the work.

I sit my kids in groups, which has been true since my first year. I don’t do homework, which has been true for two years, but I never counted failure to do homework.

There must also be movies. Twice a semester in the fall, because Christmas means “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Always at the end of the semester.


The December of Year 5, I got a look at the new Common Core tests and laughed, again, at the ludicrous notion that the new mean achievement would be centered around these ridiculously difficult standards. Except…..

I noticed that many questions required more than one answer. They weren’t simple multiple choice questions. “Identify all the solutions.” “Select all the equivalent expressions.”

Hey, now. That’s interesting. And my first multiple assessment test was born a week later.

Thanks, Common Core! sez I. My kids, not so much.The tests are really helpful for lower ability kids to show what they know, but the strongest kids have to be on their game to do well.

Here’s my first post on the topic, but I’ve revisited it often. They allow flexibility way beyond the usual multiple choice–I can mix and match between freeform and formatted response, or include both in the same question. I can create one question with varied procedural tasks, or one question that dives deep into one situation. They also allow me to greater access to student thinking.

I’ve also had fun redoing my quizzes in the past year. Typically, my quizzes have been straightforward affairs that contain no surprises. But I’ve started to mix it up. helicopterquest

These are nice stylistic changes, even if the underlying question is still straightforward.

Meta Teaching
While I mentioned that my third year saw fundamental .changes in my approach to teaching, I completely forgot to mention that the year also gave  birth to this blog.  While I began blogging at my last school, all but eight months of it have been here. The blog itself is a constant insight into my teaching practice–among other things. I’ve kept it primarily on education, whether it be policy, practice, law, or the reality, which often violates all the others. And occasionally Trump, of course. But then, a good chunk of my Trump support is also related to teaching.

I was not terribly popular with the head of my ed school, but on at least two occasions, she mentioned my gift for writing about classroom experiences. My second year out, I was telling one of my ed school professors about my administration woes, and he told me that he wanted me to keep teaching so I could write about it.

“You’re a very good new teacher. But writing about teaching will be your unique contribution to the field.” I was immensely complimented, and said so–wondering how I could possibly get someone to ever be interested in publishing my thoughts, and how I could get my thoughts down to 750 word chunks.

Turned out I could do first part myself, making the second (ahem) unnecessary.

I try to avoid doing too much with clubs or other school activities that involve stipends.Mentoring credentialed and student teachers1on the other hand, fits in well with my temperament. I’ve spent most of my life being paid for opinions. Consulting new teachers carries on that piece of my past. I’ll be doing induction this year, and hope to find another student teacher soon.

And so, I move onto years 8 and beyond. Looking forward to it.


1My student teacher got at least two job offers from the district; I’m assuming he took one of them but haven’t talked to

Writing a Tweet Storm Chain

Here I offer a practice that will bring all of us Tweeters together as one. Discovery zealots or zombie-denying traditionalists. Content knowledge worshippers or skeptics. Math, English, or history teachers–or those of you who, you know, do that other topic. Immigration restrictionists or citizens, not Americans.

Twitter will be a happier place if its users learn that tweet storm are not as effective as tweet chains.

Others have come before me, but they were writing for early adopters, the ten percenters. I wasn’t an early adopter.

Like other innovators of the obvious, I began with a question: How the hell can I write more than one tweet without forcing everyone to read backwards? And irritants: numbering my multiple thoughts. I could never remember what number I was on–or worse, not bothering to number at all. Yes, I know there’s an app somewhere, but since I didn’t like making everyone reading backwards, I didn’t want that solution anyway.

Lately, I’ve seen the nested retweet, as used here by Megan McArdle and Mickey Kaus, but while this approach does link the tweets, they are still presented in backwards order and also gives readers the feeling they’re spiraling in an endless loop. I recommend against.

At some point I noticed elegant chains of comments, such as these put together by Ed Asante and Spotted Toad and wondered hey, how can I get in on that?

And the answer is: Reply.

Just hit reply on your own tweet. Remove the moniker. Twitter still treats the tweet (try saying that three times fast!) as a reply, and chains it to the original, which also appears as a reference point to show that the new tweet is part of an ongoing series. Better yet, click on any tweet in the series, and they all appear, in order, going back to the first.

Bam. No need to number, no need to use some sort of tweet deck to organize. It’s all kept track for you. Twitter isn’t the easiest interface, and certainly not designed for archival, but if you want to dig up an old series, you can just “Reply” to the last tweet and it chains perfectly. Then, to draw attention to the whole series, use retweet.

Examples: Here’s one of my earliest tweet chains, just to show how late to the game I was.

David Frum, who I linked in an image of above to show how NOT to do it, at very nearly the same time used the more elegant chaining method, so I’m not sure why he’s still stuck in the old ways (perhaps it’s an app).

If people reply to a tweet chain with another tweet chain, you get a nice elegant conversation, like this one between me and Billare, on whether the canonization of the Khans and their appeal to emotion is unseemly. And here’s Dan Meyer not chaining, but showing how to reply to tweets in the chain fashion, so you can easily follow the conversation.

I usually stay out of technology issues. In my former techie life, I was unusual in resolutely avoiding power user tricks. I value flexibility over speed, and since I was always entering new environments with new rules, I wanted to get functional as quickly as possible, not whine about how this new program or operating system wasn’t as cool or powerful as my way better one.

But tweet chains have really enhanced my use of the platform. Furthermore, I’ve now twice written essays after organizing my initial response on Twitter–and given how hard it is for me to start pieces, that’s no small thing.

In any event, I needed to prove again I can keep a piece under 1000 words if I try, and wanted another July piece to keep my count to three. Hopefully, another one comes tomorrow.

So if you see someone laboriously numbering their tweet deck or retweeting a chain, send this along.

Note: It occurred to me that while this is well under 1000 words, the advice itself is about 50. Only I could use 500 words when 50 would do. So here’s an image to pass on: twitterchaininstructions

Happy Saturday.

End of Education Reform?

Four years ago, I first described the parallels between cops and teachers. A year after the election, I wrote about unions and asked, again, why the GOP was so intent on attacking teacher protections when cops and other government workers get the same advantages. I mean, even the bitching about gender imbalance is ridiculous, since law ennforcement is far more male than teaching is female.

Then came Ferguson and the start of a bizarre microtrend. Conservatives began this absurd habit of blaming teachers and crappy schools for black kids getting shot by white police officers and ensuing riots. “Choice would end this chaos!” they’d thunder. I’m paraphrasing, but as the sources  show, I’m not exaggerating.

So I’ve been writing about the parallels* between these two jobs since the early days of this blog. But I also—rather presciently, I must say—observed that “acceptable targets change over time” and that maybe we teachers should hunker down and wait for cops to take their turn in the hot seat again.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the pendulum has swung back, if teachers are getting a breather while the cops take the bulk of the scrutiny.

Just four years ago when I wrote my first essay, cops were politically beyond reproach by either party. Since Ferguson, our police forces are increasingly under rhetorical attack, and the Democrats are “balancing” their comments less often. Those on the right are starting to make noises about police unions. Moreover, while the  attempts to prosecute the police officers for high profile shootings have failed, the pressure to bring these efforts has increased.The brutal murders in Dallas, Baton Rouge of course add to this horrible climate.

Meanwhile, the new K-12 education law replacing the reform-designed No Child Left Behind, has utterly dismayed reformers on both right and left by stripping away a lot of federal control and leaving education back to the states. Conservatives, who gave birth to the reform movement, are now unhappy because social-justice warriors have taken over education reform.

Let’s take a look at the three legs of education reform:

Testing? Extremely unpopular, particularly with suburban whites–and if suburban whites aren’t testing, then there’s no benchmark to beat teachers up for when the black and Hispanic students don’t meet it. Kidding. Kind of.

Teacher value add measurements? Reformers are forced to argue that the American Statisticians Association supported VAM because it says that “teachers account for about 1 percent to 14 percent of the variability in test scores”. As I wrote earlier, I don’t think VAM will last much longer. Teachers are being judged by test scores in some states, but the energy is on rolling back those laws, not adding more states to the list.

Student achievement gap? Jerry Brown actually said hey, someone’s got to be a waiter. Stop waiting for me to close the achievement gap. Ain’t going to happen. The man went unscathed after this heresy. I’m still shocked. But the thing is, once people start rejecting standardized tests, demanding other solutions to “the gap” is sure to follow.

Or, as this paper asked: Can High Standards and Accountability Exist? Their answer: Not easily. My answer: No.


I’m not rehashing the Common Core wars. I will remind you, however, that the governors and education reformers never really cared about the curriculum unless it would drive accountability. As of today, just 20 states are using the Common Core tests. The rest have opted for less stringent metrics.


Choice lives! Well, kind of. Barack to Hillary is a huge step back for reformers. Barack, Arne, and John King were all “neo-Democrats” on education, which means teachers didn’t like them much. Hillary is very popular with teacher’s unions, even if the teachers themselves wanted Bernie. But neither Bernie nor Hillary are big on choice.

The Donald? The most attention an education policy got at the RNC convention was Donald Trump Jr’s line comparing teacher tenure to Soviet-era stores and then only because his speechwriter had used it in an earlier column. Kind of like Carol Burnett: “Don’t pollute, folks!” Puppy chow for conservatives. It’s not a random happenstance that the presidential candidate most dedicated to traditional education reform barely finishied in the top five and is   back pitching the same old ideas that the GOP voters didn’t even bother to consider before rejecting.

Choice will stay around, but I don’t see it having a strong supporter in the White House.

The philanthropy may be shifting, too. Bill Gates admits he’s spent millions on schools to little effect. Mark Zuckerberg wants to convince us that his $100 million in Newark wasn’t wasted, but most of the world thinks he got schooled. So the “billionaire philanthropists” are backing off of education.

But Michael Jordan has just donated $2 million to non-profits in what is clearly a thoughtful and hopeful effort to support community policing.  Perhaps his act is a one-off–or perhaps we’ll see more wealthy African Americans funding ideas and programs that benefit both urban youth and the police serving their communities. I wish them more success than the billionaires had with schools.

Education reform, the era that began with Nation at Risk and traveled through the explosion of choice, the testing era of No Child Left Behind, the imposition of Common Core–well, it may be over. We’ll still have choice in urban areas where many desperate parents are willing to submit to absurd behavior standards in order to get some semblance of peer selection. Voucher programs will have periodic disruptions. I suspect, though, that ongoing regional teacher shortages  will limit charter expansion (same amount of kids, more teachers). I wonder if the public will ever notice that private schools get created simply to grab the voucher money, and whether they will find it unseemly. Or maybe vouchers will continue to exist as a way for parents who can afford tuition to get a discount. Ed tech will continue to disappoint. But I see more of a whimpering out over years, not a sudden bang, if I’m not nuts about this.

And if I’m nuts, well, at least one of the granddaddies of education reform, Checker Finn, agrees with me.

I’m not gloating, not about the potential end of reform and certainly not about the increased scrutiny and pressure that’s being placed on our police forces. I just sense a shift. We’ll see.


*I don’t overstate the parallels.The police are tasked with public safety with all the demands that entails.  We teachers are charged with education and student safety while they’re in our purview. Those are non-trivial differences; the police are compensated with higher pay, overtime, easier access to disability, and better pensions. I’m not complaining.


**I’m in a new phase, apparently, where my new essay ideas come from my tweet storms.

Great Moments In Teaching: The Third Dimension (part II)

In our last episode, the class was engaged in sense-making, thinking aloud, arguing aloud, just plain being loud, at the math behind this sketch:

“So up to now we’ve spent a lot of time in the coordinate plane thinking about lines. In the two-dimensional plane, x is an input and y is an output. A line can be formed by any two points on the coordinate plane. We’ve been working with systems of equations, which you think of as algebraic representations of the intersections of two lines. We can also define distance in the coordinate plane, using the Pythagorean theorem. All in two dimensions. So now we’re seeing how this plays out in three dimensions.”

I drew another point, showing them how the prisms were formed, how you could see a negative or positive value:


More students began to see how it worked, as I’d call on a kid at random to take me to the next step. When I finished a second point, the chaos was manageable, but still loud.

“Yo, you want me to be honest with you?” Dwayne shouted over everyone.

NO!” I bellowed. “I want you to be QUIET!” Dwayne subsided, a little hurt, as I go on, “Look, this is a great discussion! I love watching you all argue about whether or not I’m making sense. But let’s stay on point! I got Wendy questioning whether or not I know what I’m doing, Dwayne howling every time he loses attention for a nanosecond….”

Teddy jumped in.

“Here’s what I don’t understand. How come you have to draw that whole diagram? We don’t have to do that with the usual graph….in, what, two dimensions? So why do we have to do it with three-D?”

“Great question. Here’s why. Go back to my classroom representation. According to this, the Promethean is a quarter inch from Josh, Hillary and Talika in the front row. Was anyone thinking that I’d drawn it wrong?”

“I learned this in art!” Pam, also up front and up to now watching silently, said, while comments around nearly drowned her out. I hushed everyone and told her to say it again. “It’s like…we need to draw it in a way to make our brains see it right.”

“That’s it.”

“My brain hurts to much to see anything!” Dwayne moaned.

“But we don’t have to do it with, you know, x-y points.” Natasha.

“Good! Let’s go back to two dimensions. If I want to plot the point (2,3), I’m actually plotting the lines x=2 and y=3, like this:

Alex said “Oh, hey. There’s a rectangle. I never saw that before.”

“You never seen a rectangle before?” Dylan. I ignored him.

“Right. The point is actually the intersection of the two lines, forming a rectangle with the origin.”

Alex again: “Just like this one makes a cube…”


“a prism with the intersection of the three points. But how come you have to draw it? I don’t have to draw a rectangle every time I plot a point.”

“But three dimensions make a single point much more ambiguous.”

Dwayne sighed loudly and held his head. “This ain’t English class. I can’t handle the words.”

“Ambiguous–unclear, able to be interpreted multiple ways. Let’s start with this point:


“What are the coordinates of this point?”

“Easy,” said Wendell. “Just count along the lines.”

“Okay. How about (-1, -1, 2)?” I count along the axes to that point.


“How about (8, -10, 11)?

“They can’t be both!” protested Wendy.

“How about (2, -4, 5)?”

While I listed these points, I followed along the axes, just as Wendell suggested.

“How can you have three different descriptions of one point?” Josh asked.


“But that means there would be three different cubes…prisms?” Manuel.

“Yep. Let’s draw them.”

Something between controlled chaos and pandemonium dominanted as I drew–with class participation–three paths to that point, and the cubes. With each point, I could see again that increasing numbers were figuring out the process–start with the intercepts, create the two-dimensional planes, join up the planes.

When all three were finished, I put them on screen one after the other.

Sophie, ever the skeptic, “Those can’t be the same point.”

Wendy: “I’ve been saying that.”

Arthur stood up. “No, you can see!” He came over to the Promethean and I gave him the pen. “Look. Here’s the original. Start at the origin, go two to the left, and one up. Each one of the pictures” and he shows it “you get to the point that way. So the point is the same on all the pictures.”

Sophie was convinced.

Dylan: “So how come it’s not just (-2, 1)?”

Arthur looked at me. “It’s not (-2,1) but it is (-2, 0, 1).” I replied.

“Oh, I see it!” Wendell came up. “See, you go along the x as negative 2. Then you don’t go along the y. Then you go up 1 on z?”

“You got it.”

“Can you do it for x and y, without z?” Josh.

“Take a look. Let’s see.” And with many shouts and much pandemonium, the class decided that the point could be plotted as (-3,1,0) or (-3,1) on the two dimensional plane.

“Whoa, there’s lots of possible ways to get to the same point.”

“Can you figure out a way to count how many different ways there are to plot the point?” asked Manuel.

“That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer. My gut says yes, but it’d be a matter of combinatorics. Outside the scope of this class.”

“Thank god,” said Wendy, and I shot her a look.

In other classes, I let them work independently on the handout at this point, but 4th block is crazy loud and easily distracted, so I brought them back “up front” to check their progress every 10 minutes. The whole time I was thinking, man, I’ve controlled the chaos and the skeptics this far, do I dare do the last step? Or should I keep it for tomorrow?

Here’s where the performance aspect kicked in: I wanted a Big Close. I wanted to bring it all together. Even if the risk was losing the class, losing the tenuous sense of understanding that the weaker kids had.

I wanted the win. After they’d all sketched three prisms, I started up again.

“I began this lesson with a reminder of two dimensional planes. The only thing we have left is distance.”


“How do you find the distance of a prism?” said Francisco.

“What would the distance be?”

I drew a prism:


“Oh, okay,” said Sanjana. “So the distance would be to the corners.”

“Yeah, the lower left is the origin, right? And the top right is the point,” said Sophie.


“Now, you learned this formula in geometry. Anyone remember?” I look around, and sigh. “Really, geometry is a wasted year. Does anyone see the right triangle that the distance is the hypotenuse to?”

Dwayne sighed. “God, Hypotenuse! I don’t…”

“HUSH. Tanya?”

Tanya frowned. “Would one of the legs be the….the height?”

“But where’s the other leg?” asked Jenny. “It can’t be the length or the width.”

“No. It’s across the middle,” and I drew the second hypotenuse and labeled everything.


“So now you can see that the x coordinate is the length, the y is the width, and z is the height. I just labeled the other distance w. So how do I find a hypotenuse length?”

Relative silence. I growled.

“Come on, it’s the mother ship of geometry. In fact, I mentioned it earlier.”

Still silence.

“Keerist. You all bring shame to your families.”

“Wait, do you mean the…the thing. a squared plus b squared?”

“The thing?”

“Pythagorean theorem!” half the class chorused.

“Oh, NOW you know it. So how can I use that here?”

“x2 plus y2 equals w2,” offered Patty.

“Yes, and the other one would be “w2 plus z2 is distance, squared,” said Dylan, who’d decided he couldn’t disrupt class, so he may as well participate.

“Great. We have two equations, right? Kind of like a system.”

“But there’s way too many variables. We only have two, right?” Sophie frowned.

“Great question again. To solve a system, we need as many equations as we have variables. But since we aren’t using any specific values at all in this discussion, we aren’t looking for a full solution.”


“So what are we looking for?”

“The EXIT!” shouted Dwayne.

I howled back, “Exit is in 15 minutes. BE QUIET!–Again, a good question. What we do in math sometimes is look for meaningful algorithms that can be formalized into useful tools. Like in this case. Right now, I’d need to go through several steps in order to find the distance of a prism. I want it to be simpler. How can I simplify or restate a system? Natasha?”

Natasha, tentatively, “We can add them up.”

“OK, like combination. Anything else? (SHUT UP DWAYNE!) Natasha? No? Fine. Dwayne?”

“Who, me? I don’t know anything!”

“Bull crap. I scrawled on a new page:

2x + y = 14

“What do you do?”

“Wait. You mean where you…oh, ok, you put the 3y in for the x and then multiply by 2.”

“Try not to be shocked by your own comprehension. That’s correct.”

“Yes,” Dylan said. “You can substitute. How come you never have a substitute?”

“Excluding his extraneous crap, Dylan has also stumbled onto truth. Substitution. And looking at the equation, I see an opportunity. An isolated opportunity, even. We have two variables that aren’t length, width, and height, right?”

“Yeah. w and distance,” Alex offered. “But we’re trying to find the distance.”

“Exactly. What I’d like to get rid of, really, is that pesky w. And oh. Hey.”

I drew a circle around x2 plus y2 and pointed it at w2 in the second equation


Manuel got it first. “Holy SH**!”

Teddy, Alex, and Sophie were right behind him verbally, although Prabh and Sanjana had already figured it out and were rapidly taking notes, working ahead of me.

As I wrote down the final equation, they were shouting it along, and eventually all the class joined in: “X2 PLUS Y2 PLUS Z2 = DISTANCE SQUARED!” and as I finished it up, hand to god about a third of the class clapped madly (while the rest looked on in bemusement).

I bowed. I don’t, usually.

“But where’d the w go?” asked Josh in bewilderment.

“That’s the point, the system substitutes x and y so you only have to use the length and width and height!” shouted Manuel.

“So you never have to find w!” added Sophie.


“Pretty cool, huh?”

And the bell rang.

How to explain the adrenaline rush all this gave me? It took me a good hour to return to earth. They clapped! Not all of them, but so what?

So much of my time is spent slowing down math to be sure everyone gets it. I rarely can really engage and challenge the top kids “up front”. I give them challenges at other times, and they usually like my lectures, but I don’t often have the opportunity teach something in a way that makes sense to the less advanced but still captures intellects at the high end.

Here, it happened. The top kids understood that I’d piece by piece revealed that 3-dimensions are just an extension of the two dimensional system they all knew, but had never thought of that way. Not only did I reveal it, but I did so while using systems, something they’d just been working with. They were admiring the artistry. They got it.

And I did it all with Dwayne and Dylan yipping at my heels.


(Here’s an actual promethean shot from that day. The rest of them I rebuilt.)