Thursday, May 24, 2012


Friday Fragments

If you haven’t seen Tom Bailey’s piece on the Connecticut remediation law, check it out.  He’s the head of the Community College Research Center at Columbia, of which I’m a huge fan, and it’s his response to Connecticut’s proposed law to restrict remediation in community colleges to a single semester.  

He suggests -- and I strongly agree -- that rather than a blunt instrument like a law, Connecticut would be better off prodding colleges to experiment with different ways to improve student success and solve the problem of the remedial death march.  A host of experiments across the state, with assessment measures built in from the outset, would be much likelier to lead to healthy results.  


In our house, we have a strict “no whining” rule.  If there’s something you don’t like, you either do something about it or you learn to live with it.

The Wife has decided to apply that same rule to our town, with amazing results.

The public school TG attends has taken some budget cuts over the last few years, and has not been able to invest in classroom technology at the pace it would like.  Townwide, the response has been a collective shrug, with some occasional snark.

TW spent the last few months putting together a 5k family run/walk to raise money for technology in our local public elementary school.  The run/walk happened last Sunday, and it was a MONSTER hit.  They had over 100 runners, and another 100+ walkers, and it looks like the final tally (with sponsorships and raffle proceeds) will be over $20,000.  For a first time, that’s pretty darn good.  

The weather cooperated, her team was amazing, and just about everything went right.  (I walked with TB and TG, and also worked the registration table with TW.)  Her team was united and highly functional, the mayor and sponsors were visibly impressed, and now the school will be outfitted several years faster than it would have been otherwise.  The Girl will benefit, of course, but so will every other student in the school.

It was wonderful to be able to say to the kids that this is how you do it.  When something is important to you, like their schools are, and you see a problem, you put on your big kid pants and do something about it.  Well done, TW!


According to the Harvard Business Review, being boring can actually be an important leadership trait.

I win!

The idea is that charismatic leadership can become a distraction from the mission of the institution, and maintaining charisma over time can be draining.  But leaders who are content to subsume their personal stuff to the larger mission can keep everyone focused on the right things.  Sounds right to me...


No matter how long I do this, abrupt resignations always catch me off guard.  


Why does everything technological get cheaper except mobile internet?

"Why does everything technological get cheaper except mobile internet?"

And TI-83 graphic calculators ;-)
Why does everything technological get cheaper except mobile internet?

Oligopoly and very high barriers to entry. In the U.S., only a handful of firms are in the market, and they have little incentive to drive prices to the cost of the provision of services. So you get high prices and frequently indifferent service.
Congrats to TW. That was an enormous undertaking (spoken by one who has done similar projects). Really enormous! That was a stupendous way to show TB and TG how to set a goal, organize people and achieve the goal!

Fantastic work TW!!
Sounds like TW did an awesome job! Congrats to her!

About those abrupt resignations, I have seen a few and they almost always seem like they happen in situations where the individual was in hot water to start with. In that frame of reference, they aren't really all that abrupt after all, except as a sudden end to a long trajectory. But my n is small. Is that pattern observed elsewhere, or is it a quirk of my school?
Abrupt resignations might really have a wider background than you are consider and this not that abrupt. I say this as someone who just "abruptly" resigned from my position but the academic dean was copied onto the hostile e-mails which clearly signaled some of the problems I didn't feel like facing anymore. And said dean did nothing--in fact no one did anything when I asked for help with the situation. Keep in mind you don't see all that occurs "behind closed doors."
"..rather than a blunt instrument like a law, Connecticut would be better off prodding colleges to experiment with different ways to improve student success and solve the problem of the remedial death march. "

Organizations like AMATYC (math assoc. of two year colleges) have long been advocating that the remedial math courses be more aligned to students' needs, rather than the current, narrow path to calculus. But math departments have a long tradition of not listening to any of this, and dismissing any new ideas as a "fad". Small wonder this had to be legislated. As a math prof, I am not surprised. The number of non-credit math courses seems to have proliferated out of control. And I read that Texas may soon legislate something similar - programs called Statway and Quantway are being field tested at colleges there.

At any rate, some reform in dev math is long overdue. They do not benefit skilled students who forgot some algebra facts in the placement test, and so got stuck in intermediate algebra. Those types can just review online for a fraction of the time and cost. They do not benefit very low skilled students, who simply drop out and really require some other type of intervention.

I too would prefer to have seen renewed effort come from math departments, but I just don't see that happening.
Not all communities have access to that extra 20K$, which is why taxes are a much better way of funding schools and should be adequate for all needs. This is not to denigrate what TW did, but to denigrate the idiot politicians in your neck of the woods.
Well done, TW!

Re: mobile internet, it seems to me that wired internet is getting more expensive every year too. "Get new features you don't need!" read the ads.
DD has mentioned multiple times that math departments refuse to hire for remedial teaching ability, despite the fact that such is in theory a core competency of the department.

But he's startled that the folks in charge of oversight chose to take action.
What Anonymous wrote @10:39AM and what PunditusM wrote @4:14PM both presuppose that "developmental" math classes are taught by regular faculty in the "Math Department". That is most certainly not the case at my CC. Those classes are taught in a totally separate unit, often by faculty who are not qualified to teach college-credit math classes, but who have some really special teaching skills as part of their core competency.

This has both good and bad aspects to it: Those faculty are true specialists in that area, not some wannabe calc instructor slumming for some extra pay, but they cannot shift to the college level classes should (by some miracle) students come out of HS knowing some algebra. That also would make it easy for the Dean to shut down that entire "developmental" unit, if that miracle were to happen, at which point we would also have one less Dean.

The down side is that only some of those faculty could teach the sort of hybrid developmental/content classes that have been in the works for several years (Quantway and Statway are two examples). What is odd about the move in Connecticut is, as that article notes, that they want to change to a totally new curriculum without any experiments and certainly without any data! That is what gave us math curricula in K-8 that don't result in all students learning math.

Finally, it is certainly not the case that we only have a "narrow path to calculus" in our math department. We have at least three paths, only one of which leads to Real(tm) calculus. Another leads to a course that one blogger accurately describes as the Calculus Circus (for business majors), while a third does not include any classes that prepare you for any calculus class.
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