Sunday, December 02, 2007

Really Interesting Article in the Economist

Anonymous 3:51 p.m. posted a link to a great article in the Economist about McKinsey and Company, the consultants for the district's strategic review (thanks!). It was more about their review than the company itself but the article had a lot of fascinating findings. To whit:

  • "There are big variations in educational standards between countries. These have been measured and re-measured by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which has established, first, that the best performing countries do much better than the worst and, second, that the same countries head such league tables again and again: Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore, South Korea."
  • What do these successful school systems have in common? "Not more money. Singapore spends less per student than most. Nor more study time. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries."
  • "Begin with hiring the best. There is no question that, as one South Korean official put it, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” "
  • "The quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else." "
  • Almost every rich country has sought to reduce class size lately. Yet all other things being equal, smaller classes mean more teachers for the same pot of money, producing lower salaries and lower professional status. That may explain the paradox that, after primary school, there seems little or no relationship between class size and educational achievement."
  • "You might think that schools should offer as much money as possible, seek to attract a large pool of applicants into teacher training and then pick the best. Not so, says McKinsey. If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries—Germany, Spain and Switzerland—would presumably be among the best. They aren't. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries." "In both countries (Finland and Sinapore), teaching is a high-status profession (because it is fiercely competitive) and there are generous funds for each trainee teacher (because there are few of them).
  • "Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others' classrooms and plan lessons together. In Finland, they get an afternoon off a week for this. In Boston, which has one of America's most improved public-school systems, schedules are arranged so that those who teach the same subject have free classes together for common planning."
  • "For the past few years, almost all countries have begun to focus more attention on testing, the commonest way to check if standards are falling. McKinsey's research is neutral on the usefulness of this, pointing out that while Boston tests every student every year, Finland has largely dispensed with national examinations. Similarly, schools in New Zealand and England and Wales are tested every three or four years and the results published, whereas top-of-the-class Finland has no formal review and keeps the results of informal audits confidential."
  • "But there is a pattern in what countries do once pupils and schools start to fail. The top performers intervene early and often."
Here is a link to the McKinsey report that the article references. I haven't read it yet.


Anonymous said...

Is it valid in a study to compare the educational systems of relatively homogenous societies (e.g., Finland) with those of relatively diverse societies (e.g., the United States)? I'm not sure I accept McKinsey & Company's basis of comparison.

Anonymous said...

Canada is very diverse.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't mean it as a comparison but rather, what are different countries doing that we might use? The study also included Boston, Atlanta and Chicago.

As a country, we may be the largest and most diverse especially since we, despite current arguments over immigration, attempt to educate everyone.

Anonymous said...

The last lines from the Economist article:

McKinsey's conclusions seem more optimistic: getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind.

My thought was who in their right mind would enter this poorly run SPS circus that ignores the thoughts of those closest to the action -- wow!!! I can hardly wait for the right policies.

When should I be expecting these right policies?

Anonymous said...


typical management / consultant speak - a lot of big picture big idea big sentence big paragraph garbage.

what exactly should happen? how should it happen? when? how much will it cost?

the fact that management spends its time and money on this nonsense shows how disconnected management is from the people working.

anon mon

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon Mon,

I know these guys were hired because they will give the answer they are getting paid to give.

The idea that because Singapore, which has a country where education is valued and educators are appreciated, where those educators have much more planning time and are valued by administration and the population, is able to have top students enter teaching has any correlation to the USA is laughable.

In my year in Seattle teaching, the CAO implied I was a racist because I disagreed with her. The pseudo-leadership does so little real inquiry into the source of SPS difficulties that when confronted with actual research and relevant data they find no response available except name calling.

The School Board rarely responds either.

Oh yes I am sure that the USA's top graduates will be rushing into teaching with pathetic entering salaries all for the joy of being treated like imbeciles by the SPS leaders.

And the Consultants dream on.

Fact is large urban school districts rarely make academic progress because they fail to do sufficient research to make intelligent decisions that result in sustainable programs that produce academic achievement.

Hiring consultants like McKinsey assures us of having our confusion compounded by experts in confusion.

Dr. MG-J wants to win the Broad prize like NYC. That is easy just fake the data like NYC, little to no improvement necessary.

The reason that Seattle adopted Everyday Math is because NYC did and because it is in excellent alignment with the OSPI defective Math GLEs (first draft of revsion due on Tuesday Dec 4), not because it works.

This is all a game of follow the leader. SPS follows OSPI not because OSPI has sound thought but because that is the politically correct thing to do.

Check G-J's Charleston history, she is right on track with what she was hired to do. This leopard has not changed her spots, she knows what she was hired to do.

McKinsey's job is to recommend that the 25% or more of low performing schools be restructured, that merit pay will be a great idea etc.

The problem with merit pay is who decides who deserves it?
The SPS central admin has for years been competent at very little except intimidating the teaching employees. Excellent idea give these small thinkers another way to intimidate the faculty.

Deming said at most 15% of problems are due to employee inadequacy. The real problem is a structurally deficient system.

Anyone care to deal with this structurally deficient system?

McKinsey won't be doing that because every consultant knows rule #1) Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

A decade of a widening achievement gap in math and ever greater remediation rates for recent graduates etering college. Do you suppose the consultants would find that the K-12 math program manager is not even NCLB qualified to teach high school math much less make intelligent k-12 math decisions. She was a Bellevue Middle School science teacher. Nope that will never happen; we will hear about "Fidelity of Implementation"
because that is the latest of buzz words.

So the supposed philanthropists send in $750,000 to professionally add to the confusion and make it ever more difficult to deal with this corrupt system.

Read Deming's work and discover that the problem is this top down pathetic Autocracy. Surprise they listen to hardly anyone who works on the factory floor (ie. parents, children or teachers), far too busy making unsustainable knee-jerk political decisions.

What a country (who cares about educators)
what a crew ( certainly not JSCEE)
McKinsey will muddy the water even further.

Time to take a step back toward reality in 2008. Elect Dr. Rich Semler for Superintendent of Public Instruction so our mindless sheep leaders can at least follow someone who knows how to produce positive outcomes.

Anonymous said...

anon mon and dan dempsey, if all teachers had the suspicious, negative, victim outlook you seem to have, I would run, not walk, to the nearest private school or neighboring public district - and sometimes I'm afraid there are many more of you than I know.

Michael Rice said...


While I feel that this study is a huge waste of money, if I am contacted, I will fully cooperate. The only way to discover what is going on, what works and what doesn't work is to do research. If McKinsey's report comes back and looks like the reports in other cities, they it can be dismissed. However, if it doesn't, it could be a starting point for a discussion on how to improve the district. Please let me repeat this, it could be a starting point, not an end all and be all. When you read a consultants' report, you need to read it through a sharp lens.

I find the suspicion and the cynicism that several people have on this topic to be disappointing. It is always good to question (a topic I harp on to my students on a constant basis), it is destructive and counter productive to be cynical.

Anonymous said...

"getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind."

Does McKinsey think this can work for management consultants, too? (that is, if we train and select our management consultants well, we can avoid paying them a fortune?)

Maybe a good choice would be to fire McKinsey and bring over ten teachers from Singapore, who can tell us how they are able to get the results the do?

Anonymous said...

anon at 7:48 a.m.

in my decades of experience I've only seen consultants justify the incompetence of the management - except for pay, in which case the consultants justify the unjustifiable salaries of the management.

additionally, in my years of experience, people who use labels like 'suspicious, negative, victim outlook' come from some kind of julie andrews / sound of music approach to life - whether you are 1 of the well to do family members, one of the hired help, or an aspiring family member - all beating the bad guys takes is singing 'my favorite things', 'climb every mountain', and 'a spoonful of sugar' (and no one talk about all the money that greases the wheels and makes life pleasant !)

grow up. life requires analysis and decisions. that isn't good, bad, positive, negative, happy or sad, it just is.

anon mon 2

Anonymous said...

Anon at 7:48,

Specifically what did you find that you take objection to in my statements?

Check history and check the relevant data before you begin with the vague insults.

I like many teachers would like to be able to use excellent materials in a sound and effective way, sorry you have a problem with that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Here's my take on this cynical business.

Years ago, there was a show called Knox Landing. It was an evening soap opera set in a cul de sac (it was a spin-off of Dallas but I digress). Anyway one of the lead characters, Karen, kind of summed up how I feel. She was always optimistic but realistic. She got accused in one episode of being a Pollyanna and being too hopeful.

She answered back (as only tv characters do but it must have stuck with me) that yes, she was and she wasn't going to apologize for it. That she wasn't blind and knew that there were ignorant, stupid, lazy, racist, and even evil people in the world. But she knew the world wasn't hopeless and therefore she kept on being hopeful.

But don't get upset at us if sometimes some of the rhetoric coming out of the district is stuff we've heard before. That study after report after committee work gets shelved. That some people in the John Stanford building are truly not to be trusted.

Despite my years of seeing very little move forward in this district, I still have hope. I get up every day wanting to be surprised and hoping for the best.

Anonymous said...

You go anon at 7:48! Dan is all about Singapore, Singapore, Singapore. Singapore is a mono-cultural CITY!!!! And NOT representative of all the diversity we have here, nor our cultural norms. Show us the US city (yes, a whole city, not somebody's classroom or university project) that has closed its acheivement gap with the magical Singapore math. ??? Where's the beef???

Anonymous said...


Speaking of big money for McKinsey, where are the results from Dr. G-J's
$125,000 curriculum audit from September?

Are these expected soon?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon at 7:48,

The fact that I wear an aggressive political hat in one arena, does not prohibit me from wearing a nurturing to adolescents hat in the school setting.

Anon at 8:36,

1. Singapore is not mono-cultural. I will grant you that all ethnicities there highly value education.

2. The fact that the NSF dominates math in this country by essentially bribing states and cities, hardly indicates that Singapore Math would not be effective on a wide scale in the US.

3. So what curricula would you prefer?

4. For wide spread success that is real, look only at peer-reviewed research and then investigate the actual studies. You will find that reform math fails miserably. Consider the Comparison of reform math in LAUSD and San Diego with non-reform districts of similar demographics (like Sacramento).

You will find your BEEF in Saxon math. Just like used at North Beach Elementary in Seattle.

You may soon find your beef in CA as recently the CA Dept of Ed approved Singapore Math k-5 for use beginning in Fall 2008.

5. I like Singapore Math because they have incredibly good materials that have been carefully & thoughtfully developed over many years. The same can not be said of very many math curricula in use in the USA. I own most of the Singapore Math books and occasionally use them as supplementary material.

I really like Paul Foerester's Advanced Algebra book because it is an excellent text. I really dislike Everyday Math because it is very poor.

I choose to base arguments on research rather than opinion.

The SPS adoption of Everyday Math did not even present the data from their pilot school Green Lake. This was not an accident, as it was not very good.

Math adoptions in Seattle and many other places are based on politics rather than producing excellent outcomes for children.

What I am about is not Singapore Math but excellent outcomes for children. If I am about anything it would be Project Follow Through, which shows how to achieve greatly improved outcomes for children in grades k-3 who are classified as disadvantaged. Seattle continually ignores its recommendations usually choosing to do the exact opposite in math.

NYC will show big gains in math that many will attribute to Everyday Math use. You should realize that the gains are likely due to doubling the rate of special accommodations for students to 25%.

To answer your "WHERE's the BEEF?"
question I urge you to carefully review the peer reviewed research and Project Follow Through.

There you will find Saxon Math and some leads to Singapore Math.

Research proves nothing but it does provide a basis for better decision making. Unfortunately better decision making is rarely of concern in the highly politicized environment of large urban school districts.

Seattle chooses to follow the politically correct thing to do as decision makers will never lose their positions doing that. This is the equivalent of only buying IBM products in the 1960s and 1970s and much of the 1980s, then things changed.

Hopefully things change soon for our students wellbeing.

The fact that SPS math decision makers will not look outside the OSPI recommended box, hardly indicates they are experts.

Dr. Bergeson declared a state wide math failure in August of 2006, unfortunately she did not take credit for it. As a result Seattle still looks to OSPI for math guidance. This makes little sense to me as to why anyone would follow the OSPI; after a decade of giving direction and expensive testing, suddenly OSPI realized there was a mess.

The SPS math leadership had no interest in Singapore Math prior to May 2007. The NSF reform gravy-train funneled through UW dominates the SPS.

I brought many Singapore Math Books to a high school math leaders meeting in the spring of 2007, SPS powers that be were less than interested but teachers were interested.

I would like our children to have better options, than a decade of SPS math failed leadership has produced.

Most of the people in the classroom get it, unfortunately the highly political decision makers do not. Instead they hire biased experts to show they know best. Unfortuantely there are no results to indicate that to be true no matter what the experts say.

Anonymous said...

Would you grant me that Singapore is a city?

I'm sorry, I believe North Beach is:
1) 1, single, school and
2) pretty mono-cultural.
(3% Black, 4% Hispanic). Not exactly poor minority wretches you're always sobbing about with respect to Everyday Math.

AGAIN... where's the US (United States) City, that has used the magical "SINGAPORE MATH" and freed itself of the achievement gap for everyone????

Blah, blah, woe is me. Blah, blah, JSCEE won't let me free the poor blacks from the bonds that tie them! Excuse me, I'm going to get a hanky to cry in.

Anonymous said...

You could have given the very affluent North Beach students any math curriculum and they would do fine. They get tutors and fund raising, and math clubs, and math competitions. They are a privileged, affluent, tiny school. Nothing wrong with that (I would have my kid their if I lived close by) but don't use them as an example, as they are not a typical group of students demographically. Try again Dan.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous 6:14, you are precisely why I dislike people who don't sign their names. I would love to see you say that in person at any public venue - ah but you won't. It's very easy to be racist in a anonymous dark room. This isn't the blog for you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post at 8:32. Give no mind to the self-righteous whining about anon postings. Not everyone wants to be a poster-child. If you like giving your name, cool, not everyone does.

North Beach has chased out people with disabilities (2 came to my school) because principal said they might damage their WASL scores then refused to serve them in any reasonable way. Hmmm. I wonder who else they've chased out? Maybe they chased out minorities. Maybe they chased out "possible Saxon Math dumbos". You just never can tell, but the demographics are suspicious. In any case, it isn't a good representation for anything.

Anonymous said...

Actually Melissa, in a public forum that mattered, I would definitely say the exact same thing, in person... and have. If you don't like anonymity, the internet isn't for you. I think perhaps you're misunderstanding me. DAN is the one declaring that minorities are incapable of learning anything but "Singapore Math". DAN thinks minorities can't learn "Everyday Math". I hold no such belief. DAN is also the one that wanted our vote. And DAN rants endlessly about the same thing without even trying anything else.

So again, where's the BEEF? Just please show us 1, single, US city (that includes diversity) where that has been true, and the achievement gap has been closed with Sacred Singapore Math??? It seems completely reasonable to me.

North Beach isn't a city, it isn't diverse either, and other posters agree that those students can and have done well with Anywhere Math. Not a crime, but not an endorsement for Sacred Singapore.

Anonymous said...

"Singapore WILL BE USED in LA in 2008."

Gee... very underwhelming as a data point. Let's jump right on it then!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:37 PM.

said: ...DAN is the one declaring that minorities are incapable of learning anything but "Singapore Math". DAN thinks minorities can't learn "Everyday Math". I hold no such belief.

Your first two sentence above are totally inaccurate. Dan knows that inquiry discovery based programs are of little value for disadvantaged learners and not too good for others either.

PISA results released today 12/4 show the US math performance of 15-year olds is very poor when compared with other industrialized countries. As we suffer through about two decades of growing reform math use in our nation the scores continually get worse.

Terry Bergeson announced the math melt-down just failed to take credit for it.

In Seattle TERC Investigations has been growing in use in Seattle Elementary Schools for close to 10 years. During that decade the achievement gap for Black and Hispanic students has steadily grown.

Anon, I asked you what program you prefer for Elementary Math. You still have not responded to that.
If you like Everyday Math, consider the following:

As Everyday Math was piloted in Green Lake school with the following extremely favorable demographics:

Ethnicity (October 2006)
American Indian/Alaskan Native 2.8%
Asian 11.1%
Black 11.1%
Hispanic 7.5%
White 67.5%
Special Programs
Free or Reduced-Price Meals (May 2007) 25.6%
Special Education (May 2007) 15.4%
Transitional Bilingual (May 2007) 0.0%
Migrant (May 2007) 0.0%

This Everyday Math Green Lake pilot did not improve math performance on either the WASL or the ITBS. The Green Lake 2007 WASL grade 4 Math was much worse.

ITBS Math 78 77 68 88 85 81 76

After the 68%-ile implementation year the scores peaked at the 88%-ile (wonderful) then declined until reaching a low of 76%-ile in Spring 2005 (the last year of Iowa ITBS testing).

It is interesting to note that in WA State districts that adopted Everyday Math had 6th grade ITBS scores that were more than 10%-ile points lower than the Iowa 3rd grade scores in 2005.

I equally dislike Connected Math at the middle school. This EM - CMP combination is producing poor results in a variety of cities.

Geography update
Singapore is an island nation
located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It became one of the most important commercial and military centres of the British Empire. Winston Churchill called it "Britain's greatest defeat" when it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. Singapore reverted to British rule in 1945. In 1963, it merged with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia. Less than two years later it split from the federation and became an independent republic on 9 August 1965. Singapore was admitted to the United Nations on September 21 that same year.

The NCTM focal points released in September 2006 greatly reduce the number of topics that should be emphasized at each grade level in early elementary school -- just like Singapore and other top performing nations have reduced the number of topics taught so that children learn the topics.

Everyday Math has way too many topics at each grade level and does not teach them very well. EM is famous for jumping from topic to topic before children have time to learn the material.

I ask you again what elementary math curriculum do you think will be successful in Seattle Elementary schools.

Keep in mind that the SPS has declined to list grade level required math skills as required by School Board policies D43 D44 D45.

Anonymous said...

Ranting and raving will get you nowhere. I'm sure the numbers would be more or less the same if SPS adopted Singapore. The assesments are aligned with constructivism, so the numbers might even be worse under Sacred Singapore. Then you'd just rant about something else, or somebody else down at the wicked JSEE.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 5:02,

You are sure because ?????

The program you would use is ?????

Why when Singapore gave excellent results in Townsend Mass. would you be sure it would not do so in Seattle.

Will you ever answer a question or just continue to behave as an Anonomous Cyber Bully?

Interesting that you find statements backed by data to be ranting and raving, while you offer nothing in the way of relevant suggestions or analysis backed by anything except "I am sure".

I guess failed logic like yours explains the Cyber Bully behavior.

Can't come up with a response - attack the person.

Always remain Anonymous even without a screen name.

Anonymous said...

I attended a talk by Bill Schmidt (Michigan State professor I believe) held at the International School about two years ago. He was in town to consult with District staff.

My memory is that he had data from California before and after they switched from reform (TERC like) to traditional(Saxon like)math that showed that the change benefited all students, but especially English language learners and low income kids. (therefore decreasing the achievement gap)

He also had data that showed that there was a much higher concentration of tuoring companies in the Districts that were slower to switch to traditional math.

Someone at the talk said they would post his presentation on the District web site but I have never been able to find it.

Has anyone out there ever tracked down this information?

Anonymous said...

Touchy, touchy! Townsend, Mass (in North Middlesex School District) has about 4,000 students, 97% white. Do you think they measured how well the achievement gap was closed? Would that experiment apply to Seattle, whose makeup is completely different? The point is, data can be used in lots of different ways and everybody has some.

Anonymous said...

Maureen at 11:00 AM,

The study you make reference to is the study done by Bill Hook et al.
It is the largest study done in the last 10 years that has been peer-reviewed for validity.

It compared LAUSD and San Diego which stayed with reform math to other cities with similar demographics like Sacramento that abandon reform math and switched to international standards based math curricula usually Saxon Math.

I will contact Dr. William Hook and see if he will coment further.

If you will send me your name and email I can provided you with further information about this study.

Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Anon at 5:29 PM,

You are absolutely correct Townsend's demographics are no more like Seattle's than communities East of the Lake.

The point I wish to make is that Programs based on International standards have shown to be effective in many places. In particular in the Hook study that was done in California.

Please now compare Sacramento's demographics with Seattle's demographics.

Singapore Math in the US is much like GK Chesterton's famous quotation on Christianity.

Christianity has not be tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.

Singapore Math has not been tried and found wanting, it has thus far been found politically incorrect and largely left untried in the USA.

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