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Morning Shots

Master of None (Will Fitzhugh)

In 1968, the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, awarded me a degree, saying I was a Master of Education. In those days, it was possible to get such a degree at the age of 22 or 23, after a year of course work. Now, what does that mean: “Master of Education”?

Michelangelo finished his immortal Pietá at the age of 21, so perhaps he was a Master of Sculpture at that age, but it is said that he was around marble dust even as an infant, and he had been carving sculptures in marble for many years by the time he was 21.

My understanding is that in Medieval guilds, it took some time to be acknowledged as a Master in any of the crafts. One had to serve a number of years as an apprentice, then some years as a journeyman, then, if ready to do so, it was necessary to offer a “Master–Piece” of work, which, if accepted by the other Masters of the guild, could earn for the craftsman the rank of Master in that craft. Of course these days we throw around the term “masterpiece” without much thought of what it meant, just as we can call something a “classic” when it is brand new, or even a soft drink. J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” is a classic, but then so are one version of Coke, and the Army/Navy game.

The degree of Master has to be earned over time even now in other fields as well. The one best thing for me that came out of my time at the Harvard Ed School was the recommendation by my advisor, a kindly professor of statistics, that I read Professor Eugen Herrigel’s book, Zen in the Art of Archery. This fine book lead me to

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Where Have All the Seniors Gone? (David Coffin)

In the spring of 2005, a Harvard University report of the Civil Rights Project came out detailing the "graduation" crisis in California. I knew the problem was serious, having seen snapshots of enrollment figures over the years of various Los Angeles Unified School District high schools and being drawn to the numbers that showed huge differences between the freshman and senior enrollment.

Year-to-year enrollment snapshots that parents might visit to evaluate a school such as LAUSD’s Accountability Report Card (SARC) tell the reader very little about what is going on.  For example, in 2004 at Westchester High School, the 9th grade enrollment was 1143, 10th grade enrollment was 620 students, 11th grade with 546 students and the 12th grade with 331.  What does that tell you?  Not a lot, except that the 9th grade class is significantly larger than the senior class.  It could be something simple like the districts moving kids from one overcrowded school to Westchester, or the freshman numbers could be a reflection of students being held back.

To obtain a better picture of the enrollment dynamics, I chose to look at the data over a period of years from a “class perspective” by sorting the data by graduating class.  I tracked 291 graduating classes from 29 schools in all eight LAUSD districts.  Once I began connecting the dots, it became clear that neither shifting seats nor grade retention was the case.  What I found was disturbing and it appears to support, in part, the Harvard Study. 

Graduation is the least of LAUSD’s problems.  Huge numbers of students are not even getting into their sophomore or junior years, much less as seniors.  Also, not all seniors graduate or even pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).  Some examples of the data include Venice High School,

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Does Constructivism Exist? (John Dewey)

Regular Edspresso readers know "John Dewey" is working towards certification as a math teacher.  Click for his first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth columns.  As always, he prefers to remain anonymous. -ed.  

Greetings for the New Year to my many fans and paparazzi who gave me a ticker tape parade down the main street of my town for my performance in my Math Teaching Methods class.  In the afterglow of celebration and in between semesters I am getting reading for my next class: Human Development and Learning.  I am a bit concerned about one aspect of the course as described in the syllabus:

“The course examines the processes and theories that provide a basis for understanding the learning process.  Particular attention is given to constructivist theories and practices of learning, the role of symbolic competence as a mediator of learning, understanding, and knowing, and the facilitation of critical thinking and problem solving.”

OK, it may be another long haul, but I am happy to say that my stint in ed school so far has taught me superior vomiting suppression skills.  

The issue of constructivism is a perplexing one.  For example, Jay Mathews, the Washington Post reporter who writes the “Class Struggle” column, addressed this in his book of the same name.  Calling John Dewey a “squishy brained dreamer,” he states, “I have yet to observe a teacher who is not putting considerable emphasis on specific information and skills…If you know of a study that shows that Dewey’s principles are actually practiced in any serious way in many American classrooms, I would like to see it, because it conflicts with what I have found.”

Mathews’ statement indeed seemed to be the

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