Cal State

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education

California State University Northridge

Transcript of Michael McKeown
biography of speaker


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Retun to transcript of R. James Milgram

Mr. Carroll: Thank you very much. Professor McKeown will give the final presentation before the conversation with the audience.

Mr. Mckeown: I'm here more because I'm a parent activist and as a representative of my job at the Salk Institute. And my background, 3 children currently in public schools in San Diego. Two are in high schools, juniors, twins. And the third is a third grader at the moment. Twins keep you busy! I myself attended a California public school in Vallejo near the Bay Area, North and East of San Francisco, a pretty ordinary town, nothing special. But that is important because you could still get a quality education there. I'm a biologist. I do biological research and my wife is a mathematics teacher and tutor who has taught multiple grades, so we have a lot of chance to see this.

But like most parents, we got involved in education because of what happened to our children. When our older two children were placed in an algebra class -- notably so deficient in the knowledge, skills and concepts necessary for any math based (Inaudible) exactly the kinds of things that my colleagues complained about. We were shocked to see that anyone could have chosen this course to teach any student, that's when we got involved in all the things that parents are doing in public schools for the first time. That definitely got us started.

Now, to follow up on something else Jim stated related to this same topic. I talked about mathematics and engineering influx of foreign born students. It is not just mathematics and engineering. Pick up "science" magazine published by the AAAS, the people largely behind Project 2061, pick that magazine up and look at the list of all the published papers, these are high quality, independently reviewed scientific papers. You will see from labs based in the United States the number of people who are foreign nationals are very high. Most of them are -- best grads and post docs are coming from our universities today. And this is a trend, because we are making fewer.

Science, I'm particularly interested in creative problem solving. My job is to create new knowledge, figure out how the world is out there and figure out other ways of figuring out things. Certainly it's not just rote memorization or putting it back the way it was before. And finally, I'm a Democrat and I'm not religious (Laughter). And why did I mention that? the parents in the audience know why -- because as soon as a parent goes up before a school board or a teacher and has a question about standards and content, the rumor that goes around is "Oh, he is just a right wing Christian fanatic." I may be a fanatic, but not the other two.

Now, as part of my activism, I was invited to act on the math committee for standards in San Diego. And it is interesting because the teachers themselves were very much demanding of clarity in standards, please we need to know what students should know when. Not broadly, but what do I need my students to learn this year. This was supported by the teachers and something they were very clear in asking for. One of the first issues we as a committee made, and it was largely dominated by parents and administrators -- one of the first decisions we made was to target or standards for algebra grade 8. How did we do that? I think this discussion is important because the California Standards made the same choice. We reasoned that in fact right now, the curriculum is not targeted -- prior to what we hope it will be next year, is not targeted for grade 8, but for later, if at all. But yet some students still take algebra grade 8. How? first of all, the curriculum, what is it that allows them to exceed the curriculum? go look at who is taking those courses -- almost all students from advantaged backgrounds. Kids of mathematicians and scientists. And they come from places where their friends have advantaged backgrounds and so on, and that cohort of students raises the standards of teachers, because the teachers are feeling both pressure of the kids and parents to raise the curriculum.

But in other places, do other parents who don't have the advantages or don't make the money or have the education, do they have less ambition or hope for their kids to go on and become engineers and scientists? I don't think so. But yet in schools that have kids with lesser backgrounds, de facto (Inaudible) the logic of the teachers, parents and everyone on the committee was, if we are going to get all the children the advantages we want and close this achievement gap, we are not going to do it by bringing in a handicapper, but starting in kindergarten and treat every child from then on to be ready for real algebra grade 8. That was the plan, to give every kid that chance by setting a pathway from step one and follow it all the way through. That's just the same decision as the California Academic Standards decision in regards to Mathematics Standards, and it is the condition on which the State Standards are already set. You might say (Inaudible) let me tell you something, this was actually from an article I read junior high school. It was in Sports Illustrated, of all places. And it was called "The Black Athlete," and particularly talking about how psychologists exploit athletes in universities -- not much has changed in 30 years. One of the things they stress is that the child goes out and now tries to be Michael Jordan -- they said Willie Mays. On the other hand if a student goes out and attempts to become, then they said the President of the United States, which had not fallen into such disrepute -- everyone will transfer into useful skills he can use in many aspects of life. Similarly if we teach a kid and give the kid the opportunity of a good curriculum, good teacher, good practice and he doesn't take algebra in 8th grade but takes it in 9th grade, he has not hurt himself. There's no loss in doing that, just as kids studying (Inaudible) even those who did not take calculus as seniors had the math knowledge to take calculus in college and were not hurt by that striving.

Okay. Now, let's talk about then the advantages of math and science standards as I see them and compare them, for example, to the other standards we see. And first of all, I'd like to comment that waiting until a client is 61 is too long to wait for our students to get it together. Project 2061 -- I think that California Standards in both math and science are a great leap forward, and here's why. In comparison (Inaudible) first these are standards that are world class and set to give the maximum opportunity for all students, as I talked about. Explicitly and implicitly, these standards are largely (Inaudible) -- well, you can read USA Today and the graphs and understand that. That's not the opportunity you want to give all our students. If we start shooting for top, we are not going to get to top for anybody.

Now, the key points about the California Standards, they are high level. We have described the way they are set. They are grade by grade, very specific so each teacher and student and parent knows. And this year, my kid should learn this. That's tremendously important for every person involved in the process. They are clear in terms of expectations and not ambiguous. They are free of pedagogy. If a kid with master the material of the standards, the concepts and the manipulations involved in the standards in the way we teach, more power to you.

Okay. They are also, and I think this is important -- measurable. That we actually have measurability as a key aspect of clarity and accountability and ultimately that is important. And it also is required by law.

Now, (Inaudible) briefly for a comment -- the topic of (Inaudible) came up and that's something we hear a lot -- mile wide and inch deep. If you look to the TIMSS report, take the data from the TIMSS report, plot them and ask how much of a variance between countries is due to number of topics covered per year. What do you think it is? Mile wide issue -- you must have I it is 50% variance or more? Wrong, it is about 3% of variance between countries is due to difference in number of timss topics covered.

Just as an example (Inaudible) there's topics that contributes to% of variance of TIMSS on math -- coverage of equation related algebra, real content knowledge. Already, mile wide attention really to some extent, yes, we can get too wide, but that's not our major problem.

We are not going to get the Standards met immediately. It will take time, Wu and you both mentioned we have three years. How are we going to show our progress in three years? Think about the tests. We have two tests and I think this is a critical thing to note. One of them is the SAT-9, Stanford 9 test, a nationally normed test, and this test in order to generate ability to separate all students smoothly along a continuum of proficiency, contains problems covering a wide range of difficulty. Few of the problems will reach the difficulty of the California Standards. Most of the problems are going to be set well below the Standards. The SAT-9 allows us to sample a wide range of ability levels below the level of our Standards and to compare to national norm.

And since the national norm has already been set, it will actually be a (Inaudible) that standard will stay set over the life of this test.

Secondly, we have the STAR augmentation test, unlike SAT-9, is linked directly to the standards for each grade. So the 5th grade test is linked to the 5th grade Standards. The questions on there are all linked directly to the 5th grade Standards. A student taught in a classroom that is standards based will be prepared to succeed on that test.

Now, right now, this first year, all of the students in school -- our kids just took those tests. This year we should expect our children to do better on the second test, but not on the first. Why? because we have never, ever asked the bulk of our students to succeed at the level of the Standards. That's exactly how it is. Even though the Standards never replaced for (Inaudible) we have not asked the students in most districts to succeed to the level of the Standards. And even in the districts that started to try, a 6th grade student has had 6 years to be behind standards already, and is likely to be at least a year behind. The State Board of Education, people who wrote the STAR augmentation test recognize this, and as a result there are no grades given on this year's test. You receive a score of number right and number of problems on the test. This is our base line. It is where we are now before we start trying.

Now, next year, we are going to start seeing materials in classrooms -- we hope, right? -- we are going to start seeing materials in classrooms allowing teachers to teach the Standards. Especially at the lower grades, second and third grade, it will be possible to bring kids up to the level very close to the Standards. Even in higher grades, we hope the teachers will start to teach to where the kids are with a goal toward pushing them up to the Standards. Will all kids be on the STAR augmentation, next year? No. But for the sake of our children, I hope we will see improvement, and first it will be on the SAT-9. Remember, this is a lower level test with most of its questions below the level of the standards. In trying to reach the higher levels, as we build the component of the requisite skills and concepts into the students at the lower grades, they will do better on the SAT-9, we should see the SAT-9 scores go up first before the augmentation scores. And we should see the lower grades go up first before the upper grades. That's how it would happen, and I think with reasonable diligence and a curriculum, we have a real chance of seeing that kind of improvement across our schools.

If you live in a school district that de-emphasized math and science for a year, don't count on it. Okay. With regard to issues that may come up in the short term, I don't see any reason to establish cut points in the test. I'm being told I'm running out of time so one or two key points. Problems in implementation of the standards. One I think this will be major in addition to the others -- that one is deliberate sabotage to the standards process by those publicly in favor of -- expressed being in favor of standards based education. For example, Delaine Eastin -- (Inaudible) talked about how these Standards were watershed events, and this is a great document. Yet I am told two weeks ago yesterday, a guy named Bob Anderson -- I have I have the name right -- Education and Testing Division of California Department of Education, at the California State PTA meeting, and others can correct me, got up, attacked the Standards, the test and attacked everything about them. Now, if that's true, and I understand he is doing the same thing.


1) The General Science Credential as a replacement for credentials in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

This program may be well intended but will have negative consequences in terms of classroom quality and in the recruitment of teachers.

Although there is cross talk between the various scientific disciplines, the core content of biology, chemistry and physics is quite distinct. To teach this content well at the high school level, teachers need substantial training beyond the level of the courses they teach. Indeed, it is highly desirable that teachers have a minor, or better yet, a major, in the particular science they teach. Establishing a General Science credential either dilutes the knowledge and competence of new teachers below an acceptable level for any of the individual subjects, or requires a prospective teacher to first complete a difficult major in one of the sciences and then spend an additional year learning just enough of the other two disciplines to get by. In the first case, we may get many teachers, but most are likely to be less than competent in any discipline, much less in three. The second option is likely to drive prospective teachers away. Who would finish a physics or chemistry degree and then spend at least two more years (one for the general credential science background and at least one more for the teaching credential), when he or she could go into other professions at high pay right out of college? Neither option is acceptable, and neither will meet our needs for a vastly increased number of competent science teachers as we implement the standards.

2) Teacher training and readiness.

The standards ask more from students at a younger age than ever before in California. Similarly, they ask more from teachers at lower grades than ever before. Many lower grade teachers lack the knowledge and skills in mathematics to see where their lessons lead and how they connect to later topics. This must be remedied.

Of particular note is the increased demand for competent Algebra and Pre-Algebra teachers in middle school. In an age where many districts had grade 7-9 junior high schools, a significant fraction of the math teachers had single subject credentials in mathematics, indicative of substantial mathematical knowledge. Most of these teachers taught eighth and ninth grade Algebra and ninth grade Geometry, but many also taught Pre-Algebra. Thus, many seventh, eighth and ninth graders took mathematics from teachers sufficiently prepared to teach any of the high school courses and to understand where the math would lead at the college level. With the switch to a preponderance of middle schools and the middle school concept, many single subject math teachers left the middle schools for the newly configured 9-12 high schools. This left the middle schools staffed by teachers with K-8 general credentials. Substantial effort should be directed toward making sure that these teachers have sufficient understanding, knowledge and skill to teach Pre-Algebra and Algebra and, particularly, to understand the connections between these course and topics that may not be fully developed until college mathematics. Alternatively, changes should be made to allow and encourage teachers with single subject math credentials to teach at the middle school level. If we do not deal with this problem, we are unlikely to educate as many algebra competent eighth grade graduates as we hope.

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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)