Educational Standards & Quality

Thought of the Day: “A Straight-A Student has straight A’s not because of teachers, but in spite of teachers”

Also consider that if you [have] a straight-A student in your class, that student has straight A’s not because of teachers, but in spite of teachers. That’s what having straight-A means. It means you do well, no matter the teaching talent of the teacher. That’s what straight A’s mean. So if you’re a teacher and you put forth your straight-A student as though you had something to do with it, you are deluding yourself.

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Are international educational tests, like the PISA, asking the right questions (with the right answers)?

My friend Ruth Ackerman cross-posted a video from the AFT on her Facebook page today, which questions some of the conclusions that some groups make from the mediocre U.S. performance on the PISA. (And I’m not going to dive into that politically charged question right now.)

I think we need to step back further, and ask if the PISA is measuring the “right” knowledge.  To try and answer this for myself, I found a set of sample questions for the PISA.  And I started to go through and answer the questions.   And I found one question where the PISA is wrong.

The question basically is about a science article where it talks about scientists that cloned a cow into five calves.  And then asks if the calves have the same genes, the same gender, and the same color.  The question appeared to want to see if students could infer the answer, as it didn’t explicitly give this information in the article that it had the student read.  And the question wanted to have the answer being “yes” for each one.

BUT, while it may seem to be a reasonable assumption to make that the answer would be “yes” for each, it isn’t necessarily the case for color of the cows.  I say this, because people who have cloned their cats have found that they often turn out to be a different color than their original cat, so I suspect this same thing could happen with cows.  So what if a student knew had this advanced knowledge and marked “no”…  Well, they would have been said to be wrong, when in fact the PISA is likely wrong.  (I say likely, as I am not sure that cat and cow clones would behave similarly when it comes to color, but it is no more or less a reasonable or unreasonable assumption as the one the PISA wants the student to make.)

Update: I emailed PISA ( this blog entry, but never heard back from them.

An Open Letter to the International Educational Data Mining Society

This morning I emailed Dr. Baker, the President of the International Educational Data Mining Society, the following open letter that encourages the society to rename itself to the International Educational Data Science Society, which I hope will spark dialogue within the educational data science/mining community.

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My Quora Answer to: What are the problems with math education today?

I just posted the following Quora answer to the question “What are the problems with math education today?”

One of the issues with math education that is rarely considered, is a question of “what should be learned”?   While I echo other respondents who say that there is not consensus on the goal of math, if we at least assume that one important part of mathematics is how it can be used, then there are scientific methods of determining which particular parts of math are important to know for a particular context (nation, career, etc.), but I have seen little in the way of research on this, and less in the way of using the research that is available.

For example, in the U.S., not a single state nor the Common Core State Standards require students to know what a Trillion means before they graduate high school (Walker 2011), yet they are supposed to know scientific notation and imaginary numbers before graduation…  Something seems amiss with this set of priorities.

Works Cited:
Walker, J. J. (2011). Missing a “Trillion”: How do we know if we are teaching the right things? SSRN eLibrary. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2194853

My Comment on The Economist about Problems with Scientific Research

I just posted the following comment on a good article from The Economist about How science goes wrong:

Part of the problem with science, at least in the United States, stems from our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.  Science education still emphasizes the amazement of scientific results over understanding and following the philosophy  of science.  Just look at any science fair, and one can see this attitude in full evidence.  Further, our math curriculum (even with improvements from Common Core) is still geared towards the science of the cold war, with most emphasis on ideas towards calculus, instead of a focus on understanding statistics.  And of the greatest irony (and almost hypocrisy), scientific methods are not used to determine what should be taught in science or math curriculum.  Instead there is still an emphasis of eminence over evidence, such that even Common Core relied mostly on committees of select experts and educators, than to use large scale data analysis of the needs of the job market or even to look at what is needed to truly build a pathway towards teaching students the math and methodologies necessary to be scientists, including more knowledge in statistics, data science, and the philosophy of science.  If we want to have a solution to the future of science, we must start today with those students who will be our future scientists.

The Email for FCMAT and CSIS is still down

Last week I posted about how when I tried to reply to an email from  of FCMAT / CSIS that I got an error back that “The email address you entered couldn’t be found. ”  Well, I’m still having this error, and of course, I can’t seem to email them about it! 🙂

It is important to recognize that this is the organization that is supposed to help school districts and others to have improved practices, and also manages the database of all the student information in California.  If they can’t get their email to work after over a week, it gives me some potential concern over the private data of nearly every child in our state.

I am going to try and call them today, and see if they can graciously acknowledge their issues, and fix them.  As that is the true sign of whether we should be concerned or not.  An organization that only tries to cover up and blame away their problems is one that obviously won’t fix the issues, and this is quite dangerous for the public when they are the keeper of your private information.  At this point I’m not making that accusation, but from my dealings with public agencies (and quasi-public agencies), my experience suggests that this could be an accusation that would need to be made, depending upon future evidence.

Improving Education through Addressing Systemic Constraints

When I was in high school, I read The Goal, which is a business book that introduces the Theory of Constraints (TOC). At the time I still didn’t fully “get it”, or see how important the idea is that any process that is working towards an outcome will have constraints that slow down the system, reduce the quality of the outcome, and in some cases stop the outcome from being reached at all.   And by understanding these constraints, and addressing them strategically, then the outcomes will improve most.  The A to Z Mapping of Formal Education Systems that I’ve been developing can help show where constraints are unduly affecting the system.   In this post, I’ll just look at the A to G of the model, which is the core of how it models education.

Aims & Beliefs

Aims and Beliefs are NOT often constraints in and of themselves (other than possibly self-imposed constraints).  Instead, Aims & Beliefs make up the prerequisite knowledge that allows one to determine what constraints exist within a system.  BUT, the results of having different Aims & Beliefs of different people within a system almost always will lead to constraint issues.    Looking at a business example from The Goal, in that book, it says making money is the goal of a business. I personally disagree that this should be the only goal of  a business, or maybe even the primary goal (although I don’t, as of yet, have a better substitute, so I won’t propose one.)   But, lets say that for some reason a business decided to have as its goal to lose money (think something like Brewster’s Millions or The Producers), then the constraints on reaching that goal would likely be totally different from one of making money.

In education, this is a serious issue.  Many people have different beliefs about the purpose of education.  Thus they are inherently going to see different constraints within the system that need to be solved to fix education.  But, even if there is a common goal, this doesn’t mean that the system will still be properly changed to address the constraint issue.  Remember the joke “A camel is a horse designed by committee”  and the cartoon of the bureaucratic stages of creating a swing-set.  Nor does it mean that the people who can change parts of the system will even recognize the constraint issue.  The Goal sold well because it offered new ideas to business people.


To move beyond Aims & Beliefs, for arguments sake, lets assume that one of the first aims of education should be to help people get a job such that they can survive.  (This fits well with Common Core State Standards, and also fits into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a prerequisite layer to achieve to help reach higher self-actualization.)  From this goal, then it can be seen that U.S. Public Education is likely constraining itself from reaching this goal by the content it delivers or doesn’t deliver.   Part of the challenge with this is that there are many individual career paths that need different types of content of skills and knowledge.   And differentiation of education doesn’t happen greatly generally until after High School, with High Schools having some differentiation.  This is then automatically a constraint on those who wish to pursue a specific field.


The delivery of instruction is a place where there are a huge number of constraints that can be reduced to lead to better outcomes.  As I’m running out of time this morning to write, I’m going to just bullet some of them:

  • Neurological Readiness
  • Neurological & Psychological Receptiveness
  • Cognitive Prerequisites
  • Focus on what is needed for a particular student (not what isn’t)

Evaluation, Feedback & Growth

Evaluation and Feedback both are big places of constraints on reaching goals.  Poor evaluation methods (like standardized tests can often be) lead to poor outcomes, and not using the results of the evaluation for both student and teacher (systemic) growth, also leads to not lowering constraints.


In future posts, I hope to explain more.  But I wanted to get these ideas out while I had a moment to do so.

The Social Sciences are Science, and they are Likely to be the Most Important Science of the 21st Century

There is a common and persistent misconception that “science” is only the “hard sciences”, primarily physics, geology, astronomy, chemistry, and biology (and related fields).  This is perpetuated in high school science courses, because when they say “science” they never mean psychology, organizational behavior, political science, sociology, anthropology, or any of the applied disciplines of these such as education, law, management, marketing, etc. The closes that usually exists is “social studies” which is more historically focused than science focused, such that it focuses more on stating what is believed to have happened in the past, then how social scientists, including historians, have come to their conclusions about what happened in the past.  Although this is also can be a problem in the “hard sciences” where some science classes state the “facts” of science, more than they talk about how they were discovered, and why we should believe or not believe them.

Yet, it is the humans of this world and how we operate that has the biggest impact on this planet today and on its future, and specifically on our future as a humanity.   It is how we use the hard sciences in our organizations, cultures, and nations that will determine how the future will be.  Doesn’t this deserve to be something that should be looked at carefully by every voting citizen of this nation and world?  From my experience, education changes slowly, and that which is called “academic” at the K12 level does not generally utilize the scientific academic methodologies of higher education.  Maybe this is partly because they don’t generally recognize the value social science has on their discipline?