Return to conference
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
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
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
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.
Go to transcript of Question
and answer period