Dan Meyer and the Gatekeepers

I have at least one more post on reform math, but I got distracted while looking for examples of Dan Meyer’s teaching (as an example of his math in action) then realizing that many of my regular readers wouldn’t know Dan Meyer, and so started to construct a brief bio. In doing so, I got distracted again in considering Meyer’s quick-yeast rise and what it says about the gatekeepers in the education racket and access to microphones.

This may seem like insider baseball, but I hope to illustrate that Dan Meyer is an unobjectionable guy with a good idea, whose unhesitating adoption by the elites represents a real problem with educational discourse in this country. I will probably overstate and paint a picture that suggests plan and intent by those causing the trouble, when in fact it’s fuzzy and reactive with only big picture general directions, but probably not to the extent that Diane Ravitch (or, indeed, Dan Meyer) commit that particular sin.

Dan Meyer, 31, is in the process of becoming a celebrity math teacher (hey, it’s a small group). Much of his rapid trajectory upward can be explained by his message, which involves a digital curriculum that will (he says) instantly engage and perplex kids and thus resolve all classroom management issues (more on this later), a message tailor-made to appeal to both techies, since it implicitly attacks all teachers, and progressive educators, since it is inherently constructivist.

Most of the rest of his said trajectory can be explained by his excellent luck in his early audience—not only were they progressives and techies, but they were influential progressives and techies–Chris Lehmann, O’Reilly Publishing folk like Kathy Sierra, Nat Torkington and Tim O’Reilly himself, Brian Fitzpatrik of Google, and Maggie Johnson of Google and Stanford.

A teeny-tiny bit–ok, maybe more–of that trajectory can be explained by the Great White Hope factor. As I’ve written many times, every corner of education is desperate for young teachers, particularly young male teachers, most especially young white male teachers. Smart young white male pushes technology-based teaching, implicitly or explicitly declaring that all those old teachers (mostly white female grandmas) are doing it wrong. Hard to resist. So attractive message, demographic felicity, and luck. Not bad.

I’m going to summarize what I see as the relevant points of Meyer’s career thus far, but go straight to the source: Meyer describes his teaching career in this excellent video, which I recommend watching to instantly “get” his appeal. Go watch. I’ll wait.

He taught his first year at a Title I school in Sacramento, CA and, as he says above, was both miserable and ineffective, which he blames on his failure to create a “classroom ethos”. The improvement in classroom ethos began during his second year at San Lorenzo Valley High. It apparently never occurred to him to wonder whether the “classroom ethos” improvement at his second school, was helped along by a student demographic that was 87% white. Meyer actually noted the novelty of a non-English speaking Hispanic student which is the only time he ever mentions a minority student on his blog, best I can see.

While he made numerous videos that ended with the tagline, “I like to teach”, he in fact wasn’t all that attached to teaching. At the beginning of his third year, he was already predicting he’d be in school for either an administrative credential or doctorate by the end of the next year (he was off by two), because “I’m just keenly aware how much of my strength as a teacher derives from my ability to relate to student culture, to talk like they talk and dress like they dress” and his awareness that he feels “obliged to entertain”. He often implied that he’d mastered the technical aspects My personal favorite::

I am at a place, for example, where classroom management no longer challenges me. Not that every day is all smiles and hard work, just that I have identified the mix of engaging instruction, mutual respect, and tough love that eluded me for years.

Four ENTIRE years, this eluded him! This meme runs throughout his blog and is, in fact, the seed of his image-based curriculum. Meyer states time and again that he worked hours on end to keep from boring his students, thinks student approval as essential to improved learning outcomes and thus presents his curriculum as a better way to entertain kids, to perplex them in a way they will value, and once entertained and perplexed, they will learn.

Then, at the end of five years, he declared he was quitting teaching because he’d been transformed from “miserable to happy, incompetent to competent” (astonishing, really, how few of the commenters openly laughed at his hubris). He originally planned to attend UC Santa Cruz’s PhD program but his aforementioned contacts got him a year as curriculum fellow at Google, and he taught part-time for one more year. While at Google, he made his first TV appearance on Good Morning America (probably via Google) to discuss his theory as to whether regular or express grocery lanes were faster.

At some point after that, he pulled a TEDx invitation—very nice work if you can get it—which got him onto CNN and good lord, how could Stanford let him get his doctorate at Santa Cruz, after all that publicity? So now he’s at Stanford in year 3 of his doctoral program.

A star was born.

Like most teachers, Meyer’s a good talker; unlike many teachers, he’s good with any audience. He’s a bright guy and his videos are genuinely entertaining (go to the end to catch his early work), and I say that as someone who disagrees with very close to all of his primary assertions. As a young white male teacher he could demand nearly anything, and he nonetheless stayed in algebra and geometry, rather than push for advanced classes that his principal, eager to keep him, would easily grant. I suspect that some of his willingness to stay in low status classes was caused by his short-timer’s attitude, while another part of it was caused by his 70-hour work week. Anyone working that hard and long on classes he’s been teaching for years is unlikely to embrace new subjects. But those stated priorities nonetheless reveal a guy who is well beyond committed and flat out obsessed with doing a good job.

He’s hard to pin down ideologically not because he’s an original thinker but because he was, and is, profoundly uninterested in education policy. So no coherent philosophy, but Me Like, Me No Like. He would disavow the charge that he is on the “reform” side of the math wars, although less vehemently than a few years ago—Jo Boaler, High Priestess of Reform Math, is his adviser, after all. But even now, a few years after starting a Stanford PhD program, he’s very foggy about the specifics of major debates in math education. So he’s been trying to consolidate his positions, but he’s not always sure what the right ones are. In his earlier iterations, for example, before he became well-known, he often adopted strong education (not math) reform positions—he had an “educrush” on Michelle Rhee. In the early years of the blog, he dripped contempt on most teachers, particularly older ones, including coworkers. Early on he harped often on the need for professionalism, and asserting we’d be better off without teachers that do it just for love. But once Stanford put him on the doctoral payroll, he’s become more typically math reform, which means he’s disavowing education reform positions and doing his best to walk all that talk back. Well, not all of it–here he is on a forum last year talking about the need to train teachers on Common Core:

I think if you’ve taught for thirty years under a particular style of teaching, it has to distort what your perception is of math and how it should be taught. It’s unavoidable, to be steeped in that for so long. So to realign yourself, I imagine, is a very difficult thing. So PD that involves problem solving, involves reasoning, argumentation, that’ll be essential going forward.

So the nastiness to older teachers, still there. I don’t blame anyone who wonders if promoters consider that a bug or a feature.

Meyer’s writings never describe his “classroom action” in detail relative to other math bloggers (e.g., Fawn Nguyen, Sam Shah, Michael Pershan, Kate Nowak and, okay, me). He rarely describes the success or failure of a particular lesson, or gives any kind of walkthrough. He never describes a lesson in full detail, down to the worksheets and responses. He often went to the data collection well, and just as often failed, as in his two-month long “Feltron” project in which half the class dropped out early during data collection and had to be given other tasks, or this similar project

Meyer and metrics aren’t a natural fit. A few years ago, he was, comically, shocked by news of California’s Hispanic achievement gap. Dude, didn’t you get the memo? He never blogs about it, never discusses it, then out of the blue: Damn! We’ve got an achievement gap! And then he rarely mentions it again, save for this recap of Uri Treisman’s speech. He almost never discusses his student’s test scores and when he does, they are usually not great, although he mentions once in passing that his algebra students beat the department (no data, though). He cheerfully talked about standards-based grading for a year or two and blew off the commenters who wondered if the students were retaining the skills they’d “mastered” twice in a week. When he did finally get around to looking for that data, the answer was no, and it’s quite clear that he’d never before wondered about this essential element of success. So while I suspect that Meyer was a popular teacher who convinced a lot of kids–mostly white boys–to work hard at math, there’s little evidence of that in his written history of his years teaching.

I can find little evidence of intellectual achievement in education once he left teaching, either. At Google, he and three other curriculum fellows worked for a year on computational thinking projects. When his project shipped he wrote, somewhat obscurely, “Near as I can tell, of the sixty-or-so modules listed, only one of them ….is mine. I always admired Google’s lack of sentiment in deciding when to invest itself and when to divest itself. Still it’s strange to see a year of work reduced to a single entry in a long list.” (emphasis mine)

At Stanford, his qualifying paper was not hailed as an instant masterpiece:

The criticism I remember most vividly: a) my weak review of the literature, b) the sense that I wasn’t really taking myself anywhere new with the study, and c) a claim about equity that had me reaching beyond my data.

In short, he didn’t set the curriculum world on fire at Google, and the critiques of his qualifying paper suggest an analytical lightweight—which is pretty typical for salesfolk. So thus far Meyer has established himself as a stupendous salesman, but not much of an intellectual—at least, not of the sort that Google and Stanford like to pretend they invest in. He was even wrong in the GMA segment. Unsurprisingly, he was unflustered.

Realize that I know all of this because of Dan Meyer’s blog, so he’s not hiding anything. Hell, he doesn’t need to.

But he was brought to Google and then to Stanford and then Apple gets involved, and now we’re talking three of the most elite institutions in the country are pushing him not because they have any evidence of his ability to close the achievement gap, or even whether his digital curriculum works, but simply because he’s Dale Carnegie, and boy oh boy, is that a depressing insight into their motivations, just as his success is indicative of the desires of the larger educational world. It’s not “go develop your ideas and expand and prove them” but “here’s a bunch of elite credentials that will make your sales job easier”. So they dub Dan an “expert” and give him a microphone—which makes it a whole lot easier for a largely ignorant general media to hear him.

No, I’m not jealous. My karmic destiny demands that I enter new communities with neither warning nor fanfare and utterly polarize them within a month, usually without any intention of causing trouble. Lather, rinse, repeat. I gave up fighting that fate fifteen years ago. I have attended two elite institutions in recent memory; one of them ignored me desperately, the other did its best to hork me up like a furball. I don’t want to go back. Academia isn’t for me. And if a corporation handed me money to sell my message, they’d be facing a boycott. My blog has fifty times the readership and influence that I ever imagined, and I love teaching. I am content.

Previous paragraph notwithstanding, this essay will be interpreted by some as an attack on Dan Meyer, who is largely unfamiliar with anything short of worshipful plaudits from eager acolytes (he occasionally heeds polite dissenters, but only occasionally) since he began his blog. But while he’s a dilettante as a teacher, I think his simplistic curriculum ideas have interesting potential in teaching certain demographics, and I wish him all success in developing a coherent educational philosophy. Oh crap, that was snarky. I wish him all success in his academic and business career.

Dan Meyer’s rapid rise isn’t the problem. Dan Meyer himself isn’t the problem. The problem lies with the Gatekeepers: with Stanford, who knows that Dan’s not the solution, with Google, Apple, and publishing companies like Shell Centre (well, they’re in England) and Pearson. That intersection between academia and business, the group that picks the educational platitudes and pushes them hard, while ignoring or banishing dissent. They’re the ones granting Meyer the credentials that cloak him in the illusion of expertise. And I believe that, at least in part, they grant those credentials with a clear eye to the attributes that are diametrically opposed to the attributes they pretend to focus on. It’s no coincidence that Dan Meyer is a young white male. It’s the point. It’s not a fluke that he primarily taught white kids, many of whom were obviously sent to him with strong skills by teachers who valued homework above ability. It’s the only way he could have come up with his curriculum. Yet his message is adopted and embraced by elites who castigate education, particularly teachers, for failing black and Hispanic kids. I don’t know if they do this consciously or if they genuinely believe that all teachers are just meanspirited morons who don’t know math and deliberately deprive certain kids of meaningful math experiences. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

I suspect Meyer and others will ignore this essay (Meyer snarked obscurely at my reform piece, assuming this tweet means what I think it does), but whether that’s because he doesn’t like dissent or, more probably, because he subscribes to the Voldemort View, I couldn’t tell you. But maybe this piece will make reporters and educational wonks a bit more wary about the backgrounds of the “experts” they quote, and the gatekeepers who create them.

About educationrealist

46 responses to “Dan Meyer and the Gatekeepers

  • Education Imaginist

    The biggest difference between you and Dan is not pedagogical philosophy, but humbleness. While Dan publicly shares his shortcomings and growth–which you use to attack both his ideas and his character–you share your IQ. I tried reading this with an open mind, but unfortunately this is a rant, not a positive and professional contribution to the conversation.

    • Tort


      I disagree with your assessment of Ed’s reporting. The bottom line most veteran teachers realize is that Dan’s methods are quite good but the price the teacher–any teacher–must pay to produce it leaves no time for anything else. Dan admits this; consequently, he no longer is a teacher. Teaching is a lot like that old Smith Barney commercial, “We make money the old fashioned way: We earn it.” The basics can’t be sacrificed; the bells and whistles are only the frosting, and not the cake.

      Great work, Ed, about the Gatekeepers.

  • educationrealist

    Oh, come now. I share lots of things, including both my shortcomings and growth.

    I don’t get why people are bothered by my IQ. Given that I talk about cognitive ability a great deal–can’t think why, I’m only in education–I thought it only fair to mention mine. Otherwise, people would be constantly asking me to do it (“Oh, sure, you think intelligence is relevant to accomplishment. But you aren’t all that smart, are you?”). So it’s out of the way.

    I suspect the reason people are bothered is because the IQ is extremely high. But I say in the same post that high IQ is clearly not all that, because I’m certainly an underachiever.

    I also write a great deal about the relative lack of importance of IQ to teaching, something that carries more weight given my own IQ.

    I don’t share it so people think I’m smart. I mention it because otherwise people would demand it, given my posts.

    And really, stop pouting.

  • Pincher Martin

    You may not have intended this as an attack on Dan Meyer, but it was a brilliant takedown. From the paragraph which begins “Meyer and metrics aren’t a natural fit” to the one where you compare him to Dale Carnegie, I was alternating between deep belly laughs and cringes of embarrassment for poor Dan.

    But your wonderfully subversive attack – enjoyable as it was – shouldn’t prevent anyone from seeing your obvious point. It is not Dan Meyer who is to blame, but the educational and establishment elites which turned him into a star because they want us to believe they care.

    • educationrealist

      I don’t know if you checked his videos, but I really do think Meyer has a catchy message. It’s just not workable for low ability kids or, for that matter, for any math past geometry.

      I wanted to praise his strengths while pointing out his very real weaknesses for the role he’s been chosen for. I hope I succeeded.

      And yeah, I also meant it to be funny. Never hurts.


  • Rightist

    slightly O/T I’m afraid

    realist, you may be interested in the latest two posts on this blog, if you’re not already aware of it. It discusses the latest research on the degree to which inherited genetics can statistically explain exam results at 16, in the UK. The answer is about two-thirds. This opens up a manifold of questions about how best to teach children, for example there is very little ‘streaming’ (ie segregating children into classes according to abilities) in the UK, which must be counter productive.


  • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno)

    Is it actually the case that Stanford “knows that Dan’s not the solution”? They strike me as true-believer-ish.

    • educationrealist

      Sorry, Paul, I missed responding to this comment.

      I forgot to include a link. I’ll put it in, but here it is:

      It’s hard to know how much disclosure is worthwhile here. For my own sake, I’m going to post a reminder to myself that this was the quarter I thought I was juggling everything like a champ only to have basically everyone in my life, in the same week, point out that I was only going through the motions of a world-class juggler. All the people, tasks, and things I thought I was juggling with such verve and style were lying on the ground around me.

      There were basically endless ways to invest a few dozen hours this spring. That included interesting classes and projects at Stanford. It included the week I spent in Singapore learning from and working with ten of the world’s best math curriculum designers. It included speaking, workshops, and webinars. It included Graphing Stories, a project that seemed too fun not to pursue even though editing 160 stories cost me a pile of time during finals week.

      I half-assed my way through much of it, convinced the entire time that I was owning all of it. In my first-year review, my advisers were rightly concerned about me, and about Stanford’s investment in me. I’m putting in a hectic pace this summer (see below) after which I need to sit down and take a machete to my calendar and day planner.

      It seems pretty clear that Stanford didn’t think he was doing well, and insisted he put more time in on academics and research. For all that, in the following year, his qualifying paper got hit pretty hard on academic qualities.

      Sorry for forgetting the link. I’ll add it now.

      I’d also add that Stanford’s ed school is far less of a Koolaid drinker than, say, Teacher’s College. If you’re ever bored, try reading Stanford ed school’s mission statement compared to Teacher’s College or other top tier ed schools. Stanford cares much more about pedagogical content knowledge than social justice, and even though Rachel Lotan, head of the program, is a big name in complex instruction, the people who come out of Stanford that I know are much saner and less ideologues than TC. Just an impression.

  • Hattie

    “..every corner of education is desperate for young teachers, particularly young male teachers, most especially young white male teachers.”

    Gah, this gets up my nose. Men are so speshul, and teaching is so important, that they must get in there to do their oh so important work with The Youth of Today. In which case, if the work is so important, why object to things like teachers’ unions and allegedly stellar benefits? Surely it’s worth it? (Let’s face it, there’s at least a strong chance that the people making one argument will make the other.) Or will they lose their objections just as soon as the profession becomes male. like how they never object to firefighters’ pensions and benefits?

    It’s not the teachers’ job to fix the broken families, single mothers, etc. Again, there’s at least a strong chance that the same people complaining about schools acting in loco parentis, and infringing on parents’ rights, will not so secretly be trying to fix society with Strong Male Role Models.

    It’s essentially the men’s rights morons trying to co opt all the most whiny and pathetic parts of feminism. (Because nothing says “we are strong men and society needs us” like constantly claiming special favours for being born with a dangler, amirite?) It’s not causing the kind of specious “thinking” you describe, but it’s certainly enabling it.

    • hanna

      Uh…I’m a single mom. (And feminist, thank you.) My kid’s likely brighter than you are. What exactly needed fixing?

      The only time we’ve had trouble with school was last year, when my kid pulled a batshit, dim, sneaky-mean teacher who’d recently been traumatised by her husband’s death. She tormented the kids all year and the principal protected her, which meant a stream of parents heading for the superintendent’s office, me among them, and like I’ve got time for this (and emotional triage all year long) as a single breadwinner mom. Result for us: we probably get to move to a better school.

      Pull head out of rear end, please. Many thanks.

      • educationrealist

        I think both these last comments are headscratchingly confusing. I’m a single parent, for what it’s worth. But I’m not a feminist, since I think women should have equal rights and responsibilities.

        And I always find these horror stories of teachers suspicious. Male or female.

        For what it’s worth, I am not criticizing young white male teachers. I’m just saying they represent manna to many in the education industry.

      • hanna

        Feminists do generally think women should have equal rights and responsibilities. They also generally recognize that until privileges are equalized, talking about equal responsibility is merely a way of perpetuating abuse and taking advantage, and the province of the smarmiest of deeply-entitled MRAs. When women are paid and promoted equally, can count on men to shoulder half the work of family caregiving and housekeeping, can expect rape reports to be taken seriously at college, can make decisions about their own bodies, treated generally as people rather than objects, and can poke their heads up politically on sites like Twitter without fielding torrents of rape and death threats, let’s talk again about equal rights and responsibilities.

        As for teacher horror stories, perhaps you’d like to be put in touch with the administrators who said they agreed with the many parents who’d been to talk to them, and have started dealing with the teacher and principal as an HR issue. If you’re simply a suspicious-minded person, then please stay away from the classroom, because kids don’t need that.

      • peterike

        When women are paid and promoted equally… yak yak yak.

        Congratulations on a succinct summary of feminist fantasies.

    • Tort

      Congratulations on your myopic evaluation of what constitutes “success” and equality. Note: Feminism has done more harm than good to families and children than patriarchy ever did. What did ya’all used to say? “A woman is to a man as a fish is to a bicycle.” Modern day women don’t need a husband. What good is it that a woman should gain the world but lose her family?

  • Rightist

    The implication of the research in the link I posted above is, of course, that searching for new ways to engage with students in math lessons etc is probably secondary in importance to teaching them at an appropriate level and relevant subjects – ie for many students, more vocational training and less academic study. I agree with realist that Dan Meyer’s methods would appear to have a very fleeting lifespan.

  • Dan Meyer

    “… a digital curriculum that will (he says) instantly engage and perplex kids and thus resolve all classroom management issues …”

    Any citation here? At all? Because here’s one where I claim exactly the opposite.


    And we’re only a couple of paragraphs in.

    To your thesis that my early years of teaching resulted in an arrogant, self-aggrandizing educator uncommitted to the task of educating kids, you’ll get no quarrel from me. I had to grow up.

    But in spite of your exhaustive research, you get wrong so many basic details of my chronology, my motivations, my student population, and the causation between this thing and that one (though none of that tempers your willingness to speculate) it’s hard to see an upside in engaging you here. I’ll say only that your entire thesis About Me depends on my having taught privileged white kids with strong study skills. That isn’t even in the same zipcode as “true.”

    And that’s without considering this un-factcheckable confederacy between Maggie Johnson, Chris Lehmann, Google, Apple, the Rothschilds, and the Bilderbergs, which has you veering closer to Protocols of Zion and Truther territory than any of your commenters save Paul Bruno point out.

    It may be there’s a simpler method to getting a message past this phalanx of gatekeepers:

    1. Have ideas about student engagement in math that extend beyond “engagement is only for rich, white kids.” 2. Write about them. 3. Do that for ten years. 4. If you have to post scores from tests you’ve taken maybe don’t speculate on scores from tests you haven’t taken.

    No need to overcomplicate this by adding in the Gettys.

    • educationrealist

      Wow, I didn’t include The Unengageables post because I thought it made you look bad. You are very clearly blasting teachers who imply that your method won’t work for everyone. Why would you say that this post shows you acknowledging that kids might be tough to teach? Weird.

      And that’s without considering this un-factcheckable confederacy between Maggie Johnson, Chris Lehmann, Google, Apple, the Rothschilds, and the Bilderbergs, which has you veering closer to Protocols of Zion and Truther territory than any of your commenters save Paul Bruno point out.

      Um. What? “The best learning begins with a good worksheet.”

      “I am extremely grateful to a lot of different folks who have patronized my work over those four years, folks like Chris Lehmann, who threw some shine on my assessment writing in my first week of blogging; folks like Kathy Sierra, Tim O’Reilly, Nat Torkington, and my other patrons at O’Reilly Media, but especially Nat, whose promotion on the Radar got my grocery line post moving, whose invitation onto the terrifying Ignite stage at OSCON 2009 got me introduced to Brian Fitzpatrick who helped me score a job at Google where I met Maggie Johnson who helped me get into Stanford.”

      All I did was restate this information. I said nothing of confederacy.

      I’ve never said that engagement is only for rich white kids.

      All my quotes came from your blog, so if you’re going to deny basic reality, you might want to read your blog again. Certainly you haven’t read mine.

    • fair play

      I am not sure if the link adds further support to Ed’s claim or not. You seem to point to lousy teachers as the reason for the lack of engagement – didactic contract turning kids into zombies, etc.

      San Lorenzo valley high has very little poverty (14%) or racial diversity (87% white) and small class sizes by CA standards (27): http://www.slvusd.org/sarc_hs/2011_SARC_SLVHS_9-12_20120126.pdf. Oakland it ain’t. What were the demographics of your students?

      Ed’s thesis only seems to depend on Dan not really being unusually effective, or having ideas that could help others be unusually effective. That seems to be an opinion at this point.

      There does seem to be a bit of resentment coming through. But, Dan is a big boy and Ed raises some questions that I have wondered about as well. I never really get a sense of what Dan’s class looked like for his 3-Act type of stuff, let alone how that transitions to “regular” material.

      The twitter commentary on this was amusing. Some of Dan’s sycophants resorted to joking and name calling rather than arguing issues. Those involved may want to re-read their tweets and think about how that is perceived by impartial “outsiders”. True, Ed seems to be a little obsessed with IQ . And, it may be a little weird to give your IQ on a blog. But, Ed is obviously well informed, intelligent, and puts a lot of thought into math and math education – he/she is worthy of serious engagement rather than insults.

      • educationrealist

        Okay, just for the record, I’m not obsessed with IQ. I’m obsessed with cognitive ability. It’s different, dammit! (said with irony). Apart from broad categories (over 110, under 90), IQ measurements do not interest me. While I’m being persnickety, I didn’t give my iq, which I don’t know. I gave it as 3SD. Hrmph.

        I promise I am not resentful, for what it’s worth. I meant every word I said about karmic destiny. (My son howled with laughter when he read it, having followed my career and online exploits for years.) And yes, that’s exactly why I didn’t link in that Unengageables post. I thought it presented Dan in a terrible light, and I decided the only one I would use that he really should keep hidden was the one on older teachers stuck in cement. Done just last year, for all his talk about being less arrogant.

        The twitter commentary on this was amusing. Some of Dan’s sycophants resorted to joking and name calling rather than arguing issues. Those involved may want to re-read their tweets and think about how that is perceived by impartial “outsiders”.

        Well, it was amusing. I was actually pleased they engaged with me at all, even if it was childish. After the reform post, they were radio silence. I guess this one was too much to ignore.

        Thanks for your kind words.

      • educationrealist

        Oh, one more thing:

        While I am skeptical that Dan’s methods would work, my primary point is that he has no proof at all that they work, has done zero work on this particular issue in his research yet is going around the country presenting them as an expert, validated by Google and Stanford and Apple and so on.

        At the time he was accepted to Stanford as a doctoral candidate, the obvious thing to do would have been start to research that. He didn’t. Moreover, he *never* talks about African American or Hispanic students, yet implies or outright asserts that math classes need his approach to improve results.

        Just to reiterate: he’s clearly doing his thing, and doing it well. He’s not required to do what I outline above. I just get tired of the hypocrisy NOT of Dan, but of the elites who claim to be interested in certain outcomes but in fact are perfectly happy to push a rock star salesman who hasn’t done anything to achieve those outcomes, in or out of grad school.

    • Pincher Martin


      “And that’s without considering this un-factcheckable confederacy between Maggie Johnson, Chris Lehmann, Google, Apple, the Rothschilds, and the Bilderbergs, which has you veering closer to Protocols of Zion and Truther territory than any of your commenters save Paul Bruno point out.”

      No confederacy of conspirators is needed. Just an elite syndrome in which a large group of well-educated people hold many of the same vague and empirically-unsupported notions about how to vastly improve education, and are flattered and generous when they come across a competent and charismatic teacher who shares in their delusions.

      Is this “un-factcheckable”? Not according to Education Realist. Fact 1: You seem to get a lot of support from various quarters. Fact 2: Your entertaining presentations don’t appear to be doing much for your students’ test scores or long-term results. Fact 3: You haven’t worked successfully with heterogeneous student populations.

      You may disagree with the facts, but they are checkable. And if you ultimately agree that the three facts about you are accurate, why has it never occurred to you to consider that Facts #2 and #3 don’t mesh at all with Fact #1 unless something is wrong with how our elites think about education?

  • Rich

    Dear Ed Realist,

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts, even if, when you go into minute detail with regard to interesting problems, I might glide over some of the content. I’ve also enjoyed reading Dan, have even tried many of his ideas. I’m grateful to him for everything he’s done; he’s earned his success, as far as I’m concerned. After a dozen years at this I’m still finding my way. I wish I could learn more about Vern Williams’s teaching; his philosophy resonates with me (though I don’t teach gifted students).



    Here in Korea content is KING and big-time practice is the only way to get through the college entrance exams. The number of excellent math students I’ve taught (in international schools) who say they’re merely average is legion (and this from SAT 800-types). From what all my MS/HS students from the Korean schools have told me, the teaching style FAR more resembles more “traditional” methods. Again, I think Vern Williams, like you, speaks a sort of common sense that reformers simply do not believe in. If the proof is in the pudding, however, check out modern day Seoul or Busan and the transformation of their society based on their STEM knowledge that fans across the world.

    • educationrealist

      That is so weird. I almost mentioned Vern Williams as an example of someone who is African American, committed to academic excellence. But because he supports tracking, he doesn’t get half the attention he deserves. GMTA and all that.

      And I like a lot of Dan’s stuff, too–and agree with him on issues of homework. I’m also not a lecturer.

      You are wounding me deeply, bro, by skipping over content.

      As you may know, I teach a lot of Asian kids, too (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indian). I am usually teaching them reading enrichment, but we talk about math a lot. I would like them to have a deeper conceptual knowledge than they do. For some of them, it’s like muscle memory, and not in a good way.

      Thanks for the kind words, too!

  • New Fan

    I had never heard of this guy before, but I went and looked at the video that you linked (“y/av : 002 : the next-gen lecturer”). Comments:

    1. If as you say this guy is an emerging education star with zero evidence of effectiveness, then that is a sad joke–but it’s the same joke that seems to have afflicted the ed world forever.
    2. In trying to understand why Google, Apple, and Stanford would love this guy, my first thought was simpler than what I think you mention (unless I missed it): he is rhapsodizing about the wonderfulness of using higher tech media in the classroom, right? They sell nails and he is telling people in a trillion dollar industry that currently buys few nails that they need to buy a lot more nails. Mystery solved, no? (OK, Stanford doesn’t exactly sell nails, but they train nail designers and they are all in bed with nail vendors.)

    3. Can I offer a suggestion? Your blog (which I have only encountered fairly recently) is excellent and you have a lot of insights not available elsewhere. But I think your writing would be more effective if you slightly reduced the complexity of the thoughts expressed within any one sentence or paragraph, and assumed a slightly lower level of reader familiarity with the worlds you are talking about. Your prose style is just a bit too effortful for the reader, I think. That small carping aside, please keep up the good work!

    • educationrealist

      1) he is definitely a rising star

      2) I absolutely agree that the technology aspect is part of what makes it attractive to Google and Apple.

      3) AKA: this writer needs an editor. I agree with your critique. My strongest written pieces I edit for at least two days: Schrodinger’s Cat, The myth of “they weren’t ever taught” are examples. This summer has been a difficult writing time for me, and when I’m done with something I’ve felt so relieved that I haven’t wanted to edit *at all*. Another thing: the pieces I’ve written this summer have been unplanned. I had an entirely different sequence of essays planned, but I couldn’t get up the interest in them. For both reasons, I haven’t been editing as ruthlessly. I’ll have to go back through them and clean them up in a month or so (Not the ideas, just the structure). The length of the whole essay, alas, you’re stuck with. I’m a windy cuss.

      Glad you like the blog!

  • Big Bill

    I saw the video. The jump cuts in the video, the long shots between the railing, they all speak of high video production values. Upscale web production and editing.

    And Dan himself: cute white guy, thoughtful, sincere looking. The downcast face with upward looking eyes is a classic camera technique. It suggests humility, perhaps a little subservience (but not too much!).

    The viode was producted quite well to project a carefully-considered image. No suit, just an aw-shucks, clean-but-casual hoodie look. Youthful and vibrant with new ideas, yet not too youthful.

    And the tagline (just before the closing credits): “My name is Dan … and I like to teach”. It is his mantra. The takeaway line for the Product, which is obviously Dan himself.

    Dan’s packaging and presentation was really quite good. I expect he will go far.

    One correction, however. Dan does not “like to teach”–or at least Dan does not like to teach ghetto youth. Dan likes to Lecture. If he hasn’t gotten his own Ted Talk yet he will shortly. He is a young, cute white male in an education Industry full of young single white TFA women feeling rather trapped and disheartened. Sort of a James Deen for female Twilight crowd.

    He’s got it all, including (perhaps most importantly) the right sponsors.

  • fair play

    Here is a video of Dan doing a lesson with a class he describes as the lowest class offered at the school (remedial algebra) for mostly 9th graders. Rapport is great, class sounds engaged, and the question is interesting. But, Dan seems to be spending an awful lot of time telling them what to do and the kids don’t seem to be spending much time figuring the problem out or practicing similar problems.

  • Tony


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  • Mia

    What I did take away from reading Dan Meyer’s blog is a different way to record my assessments. The concept quizzes give me and my students a concrete way to track progress, mine and theirs.
    I find your blog and his interesting. I have no interest in siding with traditionalists or reformers. My only concern is my students. Lately, I have been feeling the stress
    I have been teaching for about 16 years…first, in a more rural setting, then in Cambridge, MA, then the the last 13 years on a reservation. I am Native American. It has been my most challenging assignment and my most rewarding. I do confess that I breathe a sigh of relief that they are not ESL, unlike other reservations.
    So, I scour the literature for solutions, suggestions, etc. But, I am also a realist. Homework is not a habit here. I could say more about the situation. But, it would identify where I work. We are a teeny tiny lot. I still want to work there for now.
    I like your multiple answer questions. I will be seeing how to weave it in my assessments.

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  • kentilton

    Ah, thanks for connecting the dots for me. I knew Dan was a rock star (and that is a fine accomplishment in its own right) but I could not see how his methods would work in real classrooms — unless we wanted to do no more than learn to appreciate math vs learn how to do math. I asked a couple of times if he actually wanted kids to learn oldskool Algebra and never got an answer. Apparently not. Looks like a lot of folks are making the same choice, albeit out of desperation over their inability to reach kids (with the sour grapes argument that the kids will not need it anyway).

    I am also encouraged to hear that some happy few* of us have not drunk the Kool-Aid and still think oldskool math can and should be taught. Jeez, it is not that hard. If the kids are not learning it (and they are not) the problems is somewhere else and worth finding. My2.

    * Nah, I take my oldskool Algebra to conferences and everyone on the ground still wants to teach the art.

    • educationrealist

      Glad you liked the post , but I’m not sure I’m oldskool. That’s probably Barry Garelick. I’m just against wasting a lot of time on pointless problems.

      • kentilton

        ” I’m not sure I’m oldskool. ”

        Oh, sorry, I thought “He …blew off the commenters who wondered if the students were retaining the skills they’d “mastered” twice in a week.” meant you thought Algebra students should learn to do Algebra (which is all I meant by oldskool).

        “He …blew off the commenters who wondered if the students were retaining the skills they’d “mastered” twice in a week.”.

        That sounded like you did not think two problems was enough, with which I would agree.

        “I’m just against wasting a lot of time on pointless problems.”

        Agreed. That part of oldskool can be left behind now that automated systems make possible the mastery approach in which I practice until I think I got it, then take the test.* That will likely require more than two problems, especially if problems covered by a skill come in five variants with different surface features I must see past.

        I like Dan’s interest in getting kids excited about math with real-world activities, I just do not see how that leaves time to master Algebra. I am even open to those who seem to be arguing kids might not need to learn Algebra, but they never come right out and say that. If they did, we could have that conversation.

        * I was fascinated by a report from the Dragonbox Algebra folks: 90+ percent of kids complete the game, but some need six times as many problems and ten times as long as the fastest to do so.

      • educationrealist

        Dan thinks kids should learn algebra, as I understand it. He just says that they can learn it as described. But he never talks about classroom action, so it’s hard to judge whether his kids were getting it (he doesn’t teach anymore). He only ever taught algebra & geometry to 9th graders. I don’t do much with technology.

      • kentilton

        OK, I just read your “I Don’t Do Homework” post. I got stumped by “60 to 90 minutes a day”. Is that how long the classes are? Why the variability? Anyway, sounds like plenty of practice. And your pole star is student mastery, sounds right.

        As for technology, I’ll spam you some other time. 🙂

      • educationrealist

        Classes are 90 minutes (4 classes a day). Variability is caused by sometimes I lecture, sometimes they practice all day.

      • kentilton

        Ninety minutes is wonderful. I worked with fifty back in the day, hence the work outside of class.

      • educationrealist

        No, it’s the same amount of class time. We only do four classes at a time. I did 60 minute classes–you just devote 2 or 3 days to inclass work, rather than 1.

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  • surfer

    Dan really seems like a lightweight and full of himself. Perfect piece of fluff for edubabble Silicon Valley world. He’s not even that bright about it though. I don’t think his schtick is going to get that far.

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