Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Cross-posted on Yahoo:

  • For this year, the district abandoned its normal textbook-review process and adopted the new engageny math modules sight-unseen. (engageny)
  • Engageny math is still being written; the district is downloading units as they’re posted to the web.
  • The Engageny “modules” have not been field-tested. Irvington teachers and children are first adopters &, thus, are serving as test subjects.
  • Kids in higher grades (3rd & 4th) have gaps in their math knowledge because engageny & Math Trailblazers don’t match, but no one in the school can identify the children’s gaps, and no one has a plan to remedy the gaps.
  • The district has never had a “scope and sequence” of knowledge and skills students learn in each grade, so administrators don’t know what the kids know — and they have no simple means of comparing engageny math to the math that children have been learning here.
  • It was clear last Thursday night that administrators can’t fix the problem. None of them is expert in math; they don’t know what a proper sequence of math instruction is. Nor should they: no one can know everything about every subject. Normally “pedagogical content knowledge” (what to teach & when & how) is “purchased” when we adopt the best math textbook series we can find.
  • The solution, for now, is to drop engageny (or delay its adoption) and replace it either with the old Trailblazers books or with an ’emergency adoption’ of Saxon Math, the single most teacher-friendly math textbook on the market. (Here’s the homeschool edition.) UPDATE 11/9/2013: Or, better yet, we should do an emergency adoption of Singapore Math. Engageny math is, to some degree, modeled on Singapore Math, but Singapore Math has been field-tested and revised over many years’ time, and its Scope and Sequence can be understood by administrators, teachers, and parents alike.
  • Any teacher (& any parent) can pick up a Saxon Math textbook and teach math today. I know this because I chose Saxon when I realized I needed to re-teach my son 4th grade math. I hadn’t taken a math course since college, and I successfully used Saxon immediately to teach my son and re-teach myself.
  • An emergency adoption of Saxon would mean that this year serves as the pilot of Saxon; next fall the district could pilot Singapore Math (& perhaps engageny math, if we have good word on engageny from other districts).
  • Other children, in other districts, should serve as test subjects for engageny math, not ours.
  • For the time being, we can’t worry about the new Common Core tests. We have Trailblazers kids in a Common Core world; that’s the reality. (If we had Singapore Math kids — real Singapore Math, not Dobbs Ferry Singapore Math — in a Common Core world, things would be different. But we don’t.) The state requires kids to take the tests, and that’s fine: we should treat the results as information about gaps and proceed from there.
  • We have $2.16 million dollars in the fund balance to use for ’emergencies’; this should be seen as an emergency. Once kids develop gaps in math, it is very difficult for them to catch up to peers who have had a coherent math education. Our family knows this from direct personal experience.

Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo
IUFSD Factoids

Under current laws and contracts, most of New York’s 1.3 million state and local government employees can look forward to receiving taxpayer-subsidized health coverage for the rest of their lives. This amounts to a mammoth wealth transfer from future taxpayers to current employees.

…New York’s state and local governments have promised more than $205 billion in post-retirement health care coverage that they have set aside no money to pay for.

Iceberg Ahead: The Hidden Cost of Public-Sector Retiree Health Care Benefits by E.J. McMahon | Empire Center | 2012 Update

UPDATE 11/9/2013: MK says the problem is much larger than this. AND SEE: Liabilities for the Town of Greenburgh, Irvington, and IUFSD. Our district pays health-care costs for retirees and their spouses for life. This chart shows a 64.82% increase in what we will owe in the future over the past two years’ time, a period of record-low inflation (and record-low wage increases). The term for post-retirement health care paid for by the district is “Other Post Employment Benefits” or OPEB. The increase in future obligations as of June 30, 2013:

 YEAR  OPEB* Obligation  2-year % increase Core PCE year-on-year (Inflation) August 2013**
 June 30, 2011 $16,857,318
 June 30, 2012 $22,056,552 30.84%
 June 30, 2013 $27,784,130 25.97% 64.82%  1.2%

*OPEB = Other Post Employment Benefits *Core PCE = Personal Consumption Expenditure: prices excluding food and energy. Core PCE is the measure of inflation used by the Federal Reserve. Complete analysis and explanation here: Retiree Health Benefits


UPDATE 11/9/2013:
Mike Kolesar says the problem is much larger than this.
AND SEE: Liabilities for the Town of Greenburgh, Irvington, and IUFSD.

From Patrick Gilmartin (and see: Retiree health benefits at a glance):

The details of the School District’s unfunded health costs are given on on pages 37 and 38 of its Audited Financial Statements as of June 30, 2013 of its Audited Financial Statements as of June 30, 2013. The audited statements are available on the District’s website

If the children knew the amount of debt that their elders have piled up for them to pay, they would — or should — be appalled. The facts:

The District provides health insurance coverage for retired employees “and their survivors” for life. “Substantially all the District’s employees may become eligible for this benefit if they reach age 55 and retire with 10-20 years of service to the District.” There are about 98 retired employees currently eligible to receive benefits. “…there are no assets legally segregated for the sole purpose of paying benefits under the plan.”

At June 30, in each of the years 2011, 2012, 2013, the amount actuarially determined in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles that the District was contractually obligated to pay for the future health benefits of retired employees was as follows:

June 30, 2011 $16,857,318.
June 30, 2012 $22,056,552, an increase of 30.84% in one year
June 30, 2013 $27,784,130, an increase of 25.97% in one year and 64.82% in two years.

As noted, as these benefits accrue there is no money set aside to pay them when they become due. All the District does is pay current health care obligations. The annual expense of what has been promised retirees was $7,558,928 for the year ended June 30, 2013. Of this amount, the District also actually paid only $1,831,350, the costs actually incurred during the year by retired employees and/or survivors. The difference of over $5.7 million was added to the unfunded liabilities of the District.Another note in the Audited Financial Statements, while not totally clear as to its methodology, says that the total unfunded liability of the District’s health care plan at July 1, 2012 was 319% of the payroll for its covered employees.

Did I hear somebody mention Detroit?

Patrick Gilmartin

Just back from the Common Core meeting at Main Street School tonight.

One factoid that leapt out at me: the price of a new K-5 math textbook series, RK reported, is roughly $100K. That is the reason, she said, or a reason, we do not have math textbooks. Normally, at this point in the cycle,* we would be vetting published textbooks, piloting them in the classroom, and choosing the one that works best, but not now, not with Common Core.

Today we’re using the free “math modules” being posted on engageny, downloading each module as it’s posted. The math modules are new, so new they are being written as we speak. They have never been taught by a teacher, or field-tested with a child. But they are free, and they carry the Common Core brand, so we are using them.

The ancient tradition of textbook adoption and 10-year textbook adoption cycles is gone with the wind.

Meanwhile we have over $2 million dollars sitting in the fund balance, as the district’s auditor confirmed three board meetings ago. The sum in the IUFSD fund balance, he said, is the “maximum allowable under the law.”

(He also mentioned that the law did not require an audit of our federal funds because we received less than $500K from the federal government.)

So. $2.16 million in the fund balance and we’re downloading never-before-taught math modules from the internet because they’re aligned with Common Core and they’re free.

Meanwhile Singapore and Saxon Math have been around for years, have been extensively field-tested, and have at least some reasonably sound data to show their effectiveness. And the Singapore series (Primary Mathematics) is universally endorsed by real mathematicians, as opposed to “math educators” (the term of art in ed-school precincts). Singapore Math may be the best math curriculum available in the English language.

For $100K Irvington children could learn math from the best math curriculum in the English language, or, for $0 Irvington children can learn math from engageny math modules the district downloads from the web.

We chose Door Number 2.

Here’s a question.

If we did not have a Curriculum Director, would we have math textbooks?

Would classroom teachers, acting on their own, choose to teach math without a textbook?

I don’t believe they would. Teaching math from packets is as hard as learning math from packets, or can be. I know because I teach grammar and writing from packets. My students need a good textbook, and so do I.

But education schools dislike textbooks, which they see as old-fashioned, sage-on-the-stage affairs, and curriculum directors are trained by education schools.

Untested math modules on the internet are “21st century” (a compliment in the education world), just like the position of “Curriculum Director itself,” which, like the math modules, did not exist at all in days gone by.


We’ve still got timed worksheets, which is more than most districts can say. And we’re going to continue to have timed worksheets: RK mentioned “fluency” several times. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the concept of fluency incorporated into other subjects: a very good idea. We desperately need to give kids fluency in reading and writing (something I’m working on myself in my own teaching).

Things could be worse. (See, e.g.: Dobbs Ferry)

UPDATE: “Fluency” = “automaticity.” Both words describe actions — and “thoughts” — you can perform rapidly, accurately, and largely or entirely outside of conscious awareness.

People who are fluent in a skill or area of content are fluent. This is why the requirement that children “explain” how they reached their answer in math is so wrong. Very often, a student who is really good at math just “gets it” without having to resort to effort-filled, conscious  reasoning. When you force that student to “explain his reasoning,” you force him or her to “translate” his correct answer into words; you force him or her to function in the way a less talented student does.

Contra RK’s assertion last night, in the real world, NOT having to “think” is the goal. We need to acquire sufficient knowledge, and sufficient “automaticity” in our knowledge, that we look at a problem and know.

We should save thinking, which is tremendously effortful and rapidly drains mental resources, for advanced questions, and strive for fluency in everything else.

Fluency is reached through knowledge stored in long-term memory.

* UPDATE 10/26/2013: A friend reminds me that we do not have a 10-year textbook adoption cycle, as mentioned during the presentation. We have a 3-year curriculum cycle (or curriculum-review cycle). The 3-year cycle, as I recall, does not require that we change textbooks; we revisit textbook choices and review.

Fund balance could pay for $385K administrative offices