Cal State

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education

California State University Northridge

Transcript of Bill Honig
biography of speaker


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Ms. Metzenberg: It gives me great pleasure to introduce Bill Honig who is going to speak with us.

Mr. Honig: Thank you. We are getting down to the end of the day. I don't know if there is anymore to say on these issues. I have a few ideas I want to talk to you about. We've had -- I'm part of an organization called CORE. We work trying to train teachers in schools basically to give them support in reading and how to teach reading. And then working in the school itself we work with administrator and with about 18,000 teachers in California and in Oregon and also in Washington. We have a pretty good sense about what teachers are saying about this Framework and implementing the ideas in the Framework and Standards at least in the reading area. We are starting the same with mathematics.

In a way, the reading issue is a little bit easier. That Framework was less controversial although you wouldn't assume that at the start when you went into it. It turned out to be less controversial when you talk to school people. As least now as a posed to two years ago, you don't find people arguing to the ideas. They are buying into the ideas. In one sense the ideological war has been won in California. Democratic and Republican sponsorship and the Department -- some of the Department, and parents out in the field. There are battles that you heard in Palo Alto and other places. Teachers buy these ideas. It's not a problem for them. What's hard about it is how you translate or take these ideas and make them workable in a classroom on an on going basis. That's where the issue is with most teachers. I want to spend time giving two or three examples of that and some of the ways out.

This idea that Richard talked about this morning and several of the panelists is a major impediment. People think they know what this is. They are giving lip service or superficial adherence to these ideas. They don't know it deep enough to practice it. There is a lot of superficial attention. We are doing this or doing that. It's not that it's not a good thing, but they don't have a good enough idea of what people are talking about. I'll give an example of that. When we found that it's extremely important that you explain to teachers why the research is there. Why does that research explain what is going on. What's the explanations and why is it so predictable to who will read and who is not going to read. Teachers grab that. So for example when we start out with teachers, we ask this question. How many youngsters in your class, say 5th grade or second grade can pick up a U.S. history text book and read the first chapter and get the general idea? This confirms the same data everybody has been saying in this conference. Very small percentages of kids can do that. We get 10, 15, 20. We worked in Hillsborro. This is the argument Marion was making. This is not just an inner city issue. A third of the kids could not read grade level material. The stuff the teacher wanted to assign. After 10 years of getting organized and systematic, they got about 95 % of the kids up there. The stuff does work if you pay attention.

Teachers are aware of this.

Secondly we asked what should we be able to do if we follow what we knew. Remarkably we get from all teachers, -- inner city, suburban and rural, we should be able to do 95 %, that standard which is operational. How many kids can do this stuff. Teachers on the surface are saying we think we can do a lot better. Where we are and where we should be. This is not a problem at all with upper grade teachers. They see kids that can't read and their problem is they haven't been taught. Third, can you give a clinical description of these kids when they try to read? again the teachers are right on. They stumble on too many word and come to a word they don't know and don't have a good system. They skip it and look at the pictures that aren't there in the upper grades. They cannot figure out the word or pronounce the word. We get a lot of multisyllabic words. With the second language kids in this state, they cannot tackle multisyllabic words and they quit and won't try. In Spanish the syllables are short and in English they are complex. That's a skill that has to be taught to many kids. Many have to be taught. That's missing or has been and the standards are saying it's not taught in schools of education or in many of the text books.

They also talk about vocabulary, that was mentioned this morning. The kids can decode the word, but don't know what it means. On with the research of what needs to be done. Where they need help is thinking through in a comprehensive fashion how you put that together and when certain things are important and why. There is nobody that hasn't heard of phonemic awareness. When you ask an audience like this, teachers, what is phonemic awareness, they are fuzzy about the whole thing. They don't get the distinction between the oral parts of words and the written system which is what phonemic awareness is. You ask them if we did it here, you see the same thing. I won't embarrass you. How many sounds do you hear? Raise your hand. Some will raise 2, 3, 4 or 5. You go through that and they get the idea quickly. They haven't been taught. When you teach the kids to do that, they are disadvantaged. There is basic knowledge they don't know.

They don't know things like this. Why are we teaching phonemic awareness? What's the point? You see a lot of over teaching as if it's important because the State said it was an objective standard, then I'm going to teach it just because it's there. They don't get the connection that phonemic awareness is an enabler for decoding. How can you match up sounds and symbols? It's impossible. We find this is helpful. They need help in another connection. We talked about this supposed to be about stopping the pendulum. I guess if you can't figure out the implementation of these good inside. We will be discredited the last set was because they weren't implemented. It may be the implementation that went off and we were guarding it.

They do not get the connection -- a lot of the literature doesn't get the connection between the different components. One of the most effective charts we show as educators, is a study or two studies by Richard Anderson where he looked at how much kids actually read in the 5th grade. The average amount of reading. He ranked them according to those that read the most and the least. I have to backtrack to give you a little background on the English language.

English is a difficult language in a lot of ways. One of the ways is it has so many words. It has about 300-500,000 words. More than French. I'm angry or upset. Catching those nuances is difficult for many youngsters. We have a lot of idioms which is also hard. Then we have a lot of different words based on Latin or Greek or have root word and prefixes. Anglo-Saxon words are different. Very complex. One of the key ways you learn words is by reading quite a bit, extensively. In text, the way English text works is work that is repeat. After about third or 4th grade they repeat. The other half is made up 6 words that become rare. Rarer and rarer. The other thing that makes text difficult is the syntax changes. You get more phrases and clauses that you have to think in your mind. Vocabulary turns out to be one of those. It turns out to be a major impediment. You are wanting to get children to learn as many words as they can. The numbers of 60-80,000 words for a high school graduate. As a middle class kid with 5,000 and lower income is a lot lower. Have you about 5,000 to 60,000. 3-4,000 words a year these kids have to learn to stay grade level. That's 70 words a week. I don't think anybody set this 20e teachers in this precise way. You cannot teach 70 words a week. Direct instruction is actually imperative to teach model word and so forth. About 10 words a week. The other part has to come from reading quite a bit. There is no way when you look at these charts that Anderson did, only about a quarter of the kids are reading up to state grade level. The kids were worried about it. The struggling kids at the 30 and 20 percentile read about 1/20 or 1/40 of what they need. The only way to read that extensively is to be fluent and have the skills. That's why I think for teachers at least, they don't see a big conflict. They want kids to read a lot and know they need the skills. They like to find the components to put in place. We say the reason the coding is so crucial and you want kids to be able to code (Inaudible) is because that's the tool, the ability to decode a word is the tool by which you become automatic with the words. The key to fluency is not doing anything but getting the meaning into your mind like that. That's what we do. That's called automaticity. It has to start and this is the crucial point -- it has to start with breaking that word up and tying it to the meaning of the word when you first read it. As you read it successfully, the chemical bonds -- the neural bonds in your brain get faster and faster. Sounding out a word initially is the process by which you generate and start the process going. If you don't have that ability, you are be represent of the memory strategies. There is no more argument about that. It's obvious we have to teach the kids the code and check to see who gets it and who doesn't. I can detect only -- and I've had these conversations with the ira people. These are ones who basically only challenge this consensus that came out of the National Research Council. There are only 2 basic points I see them arguing with. They agree that you have to teach phonemic awareness in kindergarten and see who can't get it. If you can't by mid-kindergarten is a good benchmark. That enables you to learn phonics. They agree phonics should be taught. What they don't necessarily agree is that in teaching phonics we have 4 basic -- teaching the letters in a systematic fashion and teaching kid to blend through. Some kids know the letters and the sounds, but they can't sound out a word. They have to be taught that. That's a direct instruction. A lot of kids can't figure it out. They have to be shown.

The 4th point which is crucial, you have to practice what you learned. You have to read text that reflects a lot of the words of the patterns you taught. There is only about 75-100 of these patterns in addition to sight words you have to learn.

Where the objection comes is one, is there a sequence from easy to hard linguistics? There is not a hard and fast sequence, but there is an idea of giving simpler stuff at the beginning and more complex patterns down the road and not the over-load the child at the start. This is a key point. English is complex for 3 reasons. Spanish has I think 23-24 sounds and 26 letters or 27 letters. English has 43-44 sounds and 26 letters. Basically you have a lot of sounds and you never know whether you are looking at 1 or 2. The second complication is for many sounds in English you have more than 1 letter representation. That is c or k or q. The third which is the killer is you look at a letter in English and it has 3, 4, or 5 sounds in Spanish that doesn't happen usually. You look at an a and it's a bunch of sounds. That's inherently confusing to a lot of children. The idea is to simplify at the start. To give materials that make it easy to see the patterns and go from 3. You don't throw high and low frequency at them right away or many kids get confused.

This actually happened. You see this over and over again. Katie Block is a person I know. She moved to Oregon. Nice middle class family and read to the kids. Had a gifted older brother who was a gifted student. Great in math and reading. Katie's child loved school in kindergarten and loved to be read to. Got to first grade and started hating school. Stomach aches. She was confused. The super star brother, that happens sometimes. Katie flew into a panic -- I faxed a form, phonics diagnostics to her. She called me back in 5 minutes and said she can do short vowels, blends and double letter things and things like k and stuff. After that if it's an r control vowel, she couldn't do them. I said look at the material that this child is reading that the teacher gave her. Sure enough it had complex patterns under the sun. That child was confused. What I said was get books that go up in levels and explain what's coming next. In 2 weeks this kid clear up. She might have done it on her own, but why make her go through the suffering. The decodeable text argued that there is a lot of experience for a large number of youngsters that you simplify the language enough so they can get it. It doesn't mean you can't have a good story. The gingerbread boy for first graders. It has a soft g and it's a complex word. Boy has the "oi" sound. Change this to the pancake man. The same story, but it's easier on kids. That's enough of that point.

It's getting people to understand it and getting organized is a major problem.

At the upper levels in reading, the -- I think the key is this idea of diagnosing. Here's the kiwi found and teachers respond to. You don't know at the 4th or 5th or 6th grade why this is having a problem in reading. You know they are not reading well, but you don't know what's wrong. Like going to the doctor. They know it's not this and not this. You have to diagnose them with word recognition. 85 % of the time it's decoding. They basically don't have the system down that I'm talking about. Which part of the system don't they have? How much did they learn and how much are they confused on? That's what is missing. The high school and upper elementary try to have this one program for kid and it doesn't work because they are different places. One of the things we try to find out, if we gave a test to 6th graders who are reading about a grade or half grade below, you fall into distinct groups. A small number of you can decode any syllable or multisyllabic word. You still get it. That's a small group. You need more reading and strategic reading and vocabulary. A larger group can do the single syllable words but not the multisyllabic. They need to be shown about how to break up word and the syllables. That's what they need. That has not been taught. Most people can't tell you what a syllable is.

The third group has about 2/3. They know the alphabetic system, but you give them the complex patterns like Katie's kid, they have the idea, but not the system. Finally you have the kids that are back at the start. You have to have a system that the organized to where you have teaching some kids what they need to know and other kids basically pin point instruction. That's what the State is talking know. That is a major change in instruction in classrooms. That is not the way they do it in upper elementary or high schools. That's exactly what they are doing. What they are doing is essentially they know the kids can't read the material so they buddy up or give it to them orally because they think it's so important that they have to get across the ideas. That is right for that day, but it doesn't fix the problem. That's a wake up call.

I want to save about 2-3 minutes and talk about mathematics. That's the most controversial subject here today. I can tell there is a little bit of tension about the subject. We put together a group with this task. This is an optimistic note here. The task was to take the Framework or Standards and try and organize training and instruction around those Standards that is understandable to teachers. We want to find out if the differences of opinion, we have traditionalist and performers would get in the way of that effort. We had some of the people on the panel, Carlson, head of the math department at Stanford and some of the activities. We had Carne Barnett and one of the math supervisors from one of the counties. We took each of the subjects and Mrs. Hewlett funded this. We took adding, subtracting, dividing, decimals, percentage, beginning algebra and exponents and negative numbers. The typical arithmetic concepts. We didn't have probability and so forth of geometry. We set up what should have been done in this country and has not to anybody's satisfaction. What is the map going on in this arithmetic? It is very complex. They are teaching a course at Stanford, what is the mathematics of arithmetic to teachers and some of the students? You really have to look at it. The idea of a fraction is a complex idea. It's taught as (Inaudible) in most classes. Two years later they are required when you start to have other ideas of what fractions are. A more proportional relationship kind of aspect. If you don't get into that at the start, they are never going to make it. Know how to use fractions, add, subtract and multiply and divide fractions. Take another one -- percentage. Percentage is a very crucial attribute, not for higher math, just to live in the world. 40 % of Americans don't understand it. Here's what's missing. The math -- a high percentage is complex. It's a very complex set of ideas that we take for granted. It's a proportional representation. This is 100. In part it's multiplicatives. That is not understood by teachers or students if it's not taught that way. Most of the NAEP results, as soon as you ask "Is this more than 100 %", kids do not understand. Not knowing the math and not giving example and not tieing the examples or the applications to the concepts and the algorithms, basically (Inaudible). If you spend 6-7 weeks in the 7th grade and do it the way I'm talking about you get 95 % of the kids together. If you do it the way we do it now, short of time, you get 40 %. That is a nice piece of research to share with people. That's what I'm talking about, translating standards, knowing the research mind it. There is quite a bit in the last few years.

What's the math, where do kids go wrong and how they misunderstand? Why is it hard to get the concept of a fraction? some of you are talking about first grade. A key issue is this idea of counts and what counting represents. Some kids enjoyed it and other kids need to be shown.

The third is what are tips for introduction. Basically, how you organize a course of study (Inaudible) of a lot of the scope and sequence that leaves holes. We want people to understand what's missing. You get the behavior. In marin, it's not very expensive, but it would be interesting for people to send back comments on this whether you think this is the right track or not.

Final point I'd like to make is that -- this is now K-7 math before algebra. Algebra start to get abstract. It's a little different. Up to the 7th grade, one of the major issues in math is the idea of quantitative reasoning. It's basically to take an idea, a mathematical idea and connect it to the real world and understand the algorithm you are using to solve that and how they are all the same thing. When the Japanese introduce a subject, they basically give-- like negative numbers they give here is a water tower and it rains and goes up here. Then the water goes down here. They show you the difference and you do both the idea of a negative number, the example, and the algorithm all at the same time. You see how they connect. In the United States when you look at lessons, we will do 1. Some people teach conceptually and that's it or with an algorithm and that's it or with an investigation and that's it. Very few people put it together. That's the reasoning issue. The final point of that is one of the things we have to recognize and Don maybe will talk a little bit about this

Ms. Metzenberg: Questions or comments.

Audience member: I teach kindergarten in Los Angeles and we use explicit systematic instruction that really works of you recommend in regard to implementation some publishers of decoded text. Very hard to find. We have (Inaudible) English books and I'm using obsolete books and things I've made myself.

Mr. Honig: It is still a major problem. As Marion said this morning, they are doing supplemental adoption of materials and there should be help. There should be good materials around for kindergarten (Inaudible) some of the publishers have that. But we found that, there's four keys to getting this stuff done in the schools. One, that teachers understand what you are talking about like I just mentioned. Two, that you have benchmarks of expectations -- by kindergarten, we want to see who can (Inaudible) and if we can't, we will intervene and do something about. By first grade, decoding tests and if not, do something about it. Third, you have materials, organized comprehensive program with the right materials. Fourth that that school is organized as a school to do something about it. Just not you as a kindergarten teacher, but you are part of a collective commitment.

Audience member: But (Inaudible) scholastic and getting examples from that --.

Mr. Honig: I can't hear what you are saying.

Ms. Metzenberg: Do you want specific book examples.

Audience member: Specific publishers?

Audience member: There are a lot of.

Captionist: Cannot hear you.

Audience member: Get to the microphone.

Audience member: The curriculum commission is reviewing this week, and we will get the first or second week in june, there are a lot of decodables, but they are attached to instruction lessons which is important.

Audience member: I know --.

Audience member: But your district -- L.A.T. Is really on the track of trying to get the right materials this time. So I think you will be able to get a list, but you will also be able to get it from the district. So help it on the way, couple of weeks.

Audience member: Dr. Honig, we are doing a little study in Texas on textbook publishers and more defined rehabilitative (Inaudible) books sold in the public schools throught this country. What's the guarantee in California -- obviously you are not in a position of being elected at this point. But if we look in California as 60% of the kids can't read grade level materials, we still have publishers selling us materials that by and large are not readable. What's to prevent -- what's your suggestion? you've been in a position -- the bottom line, we are buying materials in California, Texas, throughout the country that 80% of the kids can't read middle and high school materials, we have books in Texas (Inaudible) kids taking algebra.

Mr. Honig: That's a connundrum, because if they have books they should have, they won't understand them. Our strategy, one way of doing it -- kids should not be reading books, independently at least, that they can't get 95% of the words. They have to be automatic with the words and then get the other words specifically. That means you have to have a program, they are reading third grade level and they are in the 5th grade. You give them a 5th grade history book -- it's not going to work. They don't know the words or syntax and can't handle it. You have to get them up to that level. If you have a planned program in that school over a period of a year, it does not take that long for some kids in basic skills, you will get them closer to the mark. If you have an independent reading program organized in the school, this pays off. And you will see (Inaudible) goes up and up until they get closer. Once they get in the range, they can handle the regular text. But if you water down the text you don't get the idea. In Fremont, they bought Open Court and had great improvement as part of the Packard Project. They had coaches and a big jump in sports. In the third year they did not give the Open Court test to third graders. They couldn't handle it. They sent them back to second which was start. The next year, the kids -- they started to up it again. But at least they geared the instruction to where the kids were. I think that's the way you have to do it.

Ms. Metzenberg: I think what you are saying is key. My daughters have reading time but it is not directed and they are not monitored (Inaudible).

Mr. Honig: Can't be too hard or easy.

Audience member: I have a comment on what was said about mathematics. I really appreciated -- there were three things I particularly liked. Amplify further. One, a positive focus on professional development, bringing teachers in, bringing people together around thing, rather than (Inaudible) a situation, that is important. And the other thing I heard, this is my words rather than yours, but along the same lines -- an emphasis on giving children mathematical models of physical systems -- vice-versa -- mathematical models of physical systems and physical models of mathematical systems. You would not use those words with an elementary school kid, but that's the concept to help them link what they are doing in math and science.

Mr. Honig: That did not seem to be controversial in the group.

Audience member: It shouldn't be.

Mr. Honig: And in numbers, there's a lot of thinking in manipulating numbers. So you can have critical thinking involved in just how you do the symbols. This idea of (Inaudible).

Audience member: One thing I would have liked very much to see and I said this in the Standards Commission but I don't think it happened -- some kind of coordination between math and science standards so when you have a topic in mathematics, you have the science there, to give the meaning and then you have a topic in science, you have the mathematics there to make it understandable.

Mr. Honig: Yeah. I'll tell you, it's hard enough in math to try to figure out the connections, that's a big I shall you other. If you are going to understand fractions in 4th grade, then what do you have to do in third grade to make that connection. And you tell the 4th grade teachers by the way, refer back to the kind of sharing things, that's what's going on in fractions sometimes, that's what it says (Inaudible) that's just a novel idea most people talk about and don't know the connections, and they are crucial with kids.

Ms. Metzenberg: One more.

Audience member: (Inaudible) us versus them. What I want to hear about the Standards, what I'm concerned about is really if you are going to have implementation, you talk about reading and simplifying it for some kids. We have to simplify it for a lot of the teachers, because too often what ends up being translated -- we are assuming that even the best written standards aren't going to be misinterpreted. But being realistic, we have a lot of standards and theories that got misinterpreted. You referred to my favorite reading practice, sustained reading, which has become -- defies common sense of having a book open in front of you for 15 minutes somehow improves your reading skills and vocabulary. Yet we have classrooms where this goes on 15 minutes a day for the one hour English period in the high schools so the kids effectively are getting how much direct instruction? And kids read the same book for months on end. (Laughter) and that's my frustration. I guess I'm begging anybody involved in this -- you need to write something that says, "these are the things you may not do." (Laughter).

Mr. Honig: You got the wrong (Inaudible) I'm not (Inaudible) like that. But let me comment on a few things. One, this is an implementation issue. It's a good idea getting kids to read, that's not controversial. But how to do that in the most effective and economical way. For example, every educator we talked to said yes, kids should read a lot. But when we asked how organized they were to do that, that left a lot to be desired. The state had a standard, as I said, for vocabulary. Twenty minutes a night, you have to have enough books around, somebody to check to see the kid read the book, and a way of keeping track of what they read -- it has to be organized. That's what's missing a lot of time. One idea was, it's a State (Inaudible) reading the teacher should be up there reading because it is a good modeling for the kid. When you think about that, it is correct. But it is much more effective -- to use that time for doing the sustained reading is to actually work with the kids in conferencing. It's a much more powerful. You will get much more powerful ruts. And there are ways of assuring kids are reading during that time. So I'm saying, a lot of the levels of discussion we are getting down to, nobody is arguing with decoding -- most people aren't arguing with decoding. But how do you best teach it and what it looks like in an effective program, how much time to give to it and how do you check, those are issues.

Audience member: Are we saying selling out --.

Mr. Honig: Me?

Audience member: Not you -- someone would be selling out exactly what an effective program looks like. That's my frustration, the assumption that everyone employed in the public school system has the critical thinking skills to synthesize this material and arrived at the conclusions you have.

Mr. Honig: -- We basically look at materials and see where they are strong and weak (Inaudible) I agree. You can't expect the field, the professionals to invent all this stuff. It is too complex. But they can have critical consumer judgments -- this will work for decoding, this won't.

Ms. Metzenberg: We need to move along. We will have to have more conversation later. Thank you. (Applause)

Go to transcript of E.D. Hirsch, Jr. 


Contact the organizers

Postal and telephone information:

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K12 Education

College of Science and Mathematics

California State University Northridge

18111 Nordhoff St.

Northridge CA 91330-8235

Telephone: (Dr. Klein: 818-677-7792)

FAX: 818-677-3634 (Attn: David Klein)