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Ted Williams, Expert

40 years later, same stuff.

Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail discussion I had about AP teachers, expertise and parallels in teaching.

An expert recognizes parallels – real parallels – in different activities and assigns the practice appropriately. The best example of this, in my opinion, is with the baseball player Ted Williams who, for those of you who might not be baseball fans, is regarded as the best hitter in baseball history. He didn’t hit the most home runs [though he is 15th all-time in that category], but he could hit any pitch off any pitcher. Last year the average major league baseball player reached base safely [with a hit or a walk] 33.6% of the time. Ted Williams’ numbers averaged over his entire career? 48.2%. He reached base safely – the object of a hitter’s every at-bat – 50% more than the average baseball player. He really knew how to hit. He was an expert.

In 1970 he published a book called The Science of Hitting. It broke down and explained his technique, preparation, etc. There was a memorable section that I won’t ever forget reading when I was 12 or so – he compared hitting to what he called the “dying act” of chopping a tree. To sum it up, an optimal baseball swing is at a slight downward angle with a release of energy at the point of impact between the ball and the bat. It’s exactly like chopping down a tree with an axe. The best part about practicing chopping down trees is that if your shoulder is too low or you’re committing some other mechanical flaw, you’ll feel it the next day and know your mistake.

Ted knew hitting well enough to find a perfect parallel. If you spent a winter with Ted Williams and chopped wood each day, when baseball season hit in the spring, you’d have improved a great deal without ever touching a bat or seeing a pitch. That’s the power of identifying real parallels and making them work for you.

And it’s the same thing with academics. If you know your subject well enough – and know your test well enough, like an AP exam or Regents – it isn’t hard at all to prepare students to score well without trudging through test prep or methodical review. A good teacher makes you a great hitter even when you’re chopping wood.

Experts can do this effectively. Hardly any teachers [HS or college] have this level of expertise in the subjects they teach or in teaching.

Jaime Escalante on Reaching These Keeeeeeeds

how do i reach theese keeeds?

Teacher Jaime Escalante received the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education in 1988. He gained notoriety when portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, the story of a tough, dedicated math teacher in Los Angeles. It’s a classic.

The moral of the story? When taught properly and when all parties are dedicated, anyone can succeed.

And, of course, the final score is one for the ages: Escalante et al.: 1; ETS: 0.

Take a look at a few bios of Escalante’s former students. They defied crass, ill-founded expectations and, with Escalante’s masterful guidance re: math and that other important discipline- life – they’ve done quite well.

The rise of Escalante’s math program in a LAUSD school is the stuff of education legend. Its collapse, however, is largely unknown. As Reason Magazine pointed out in its in-depth history of the program, it’s a shame.

I didn’t mind that South Park parodied Escalante a few weeks ago. Eric Cartman became Mr. Cartmenez, a capable instructor who guided his underperforming students in the ways of cheating. Infused with topical references to the New England Patriots cheating scandal, it was a lighthearted parody that poked a little fun without undermining the important work that Escalante is known for.

The Sacramento Bee posted today an interview with Mr. Escalante [hat tip: Intercepts]. Unfortunately for us, he now teaches in Bolivia, but he was back in the states to receive a Latino Spirit Award from the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

If there’s one thing you read today, make sure it’s this interview. Sound, common sense wisdom from funding to calling moms.


Q: If you were a young man, would you choose to become a teacher again?

A: Absolutely. That’s the only thing I can do. Believe me, I had fun, especially when I used to deal with gang members or kids who weren’t motivated.

Before class and after class, I’d talk to them, to make them believe they could do it. I used to tell them, “Remember this: No one is better than you.”

Q: How do you feel about the term “hero”? Do you feel like a hero?

A: Not really. I’m just an honest man. An honorable man who did the assignment and the homework, because California gave me the chance.

Q: Do you have any regrets supporting Proposition 227 (the 1998 ballot measure that virtually ended bilingual education in public schools)?

A: I was in favor of monolingual language, and it was controversial in those days, because people thought I was going in the wrong direction. No. The tremendous success I had at Garfield High School was because I emphasized (English). I used to say, “Unfortunately, the test comes in one language, and you have to master that language.”

Q: Do you support the concept of a high school exit examination?

A: Yeah, I would say so, because when kids graduate … I assume that in four years, they’ll learn something. … What they have to do on the test is to emphasize their basic knowledge.

Q: Some say public education isn’t getting enough money. Others say money is not spent wisely. What do you think?

A: Money is not the problem. … We have to know how to spend it. We put too much money (in programs) that don’t achieve results. We waste a lot.

Q: What should California do about its dropout rate?

A: Schools alone cannot educate, they need the help of parents. … At Garfield High School, a high percentage of dropouts were kids who didn’t want to come to school. So I made them sign a contract.

And before that, I got in communication with their mom – mom is the one who calls the shots. I said, “Mom, … this is what we’re going to do, and you’re going to help me out. … I need you to control him. I’ll be calling you.”

Q: Advice to teenagers?

A: Set your goals and go for it. You’re going to have to go to college to be something. Otherwise, you’re going to be pumping gas all the time – and today, there’s no gas.

Advanced Placement Teachers Take the AP Exam Themselves

take the test

How can teachers prepare students for success on Advanced Placement exams? They can start by taking the test themselves, says Erica Jacobs.

“This may not sound very radical, but teachers rarely take the tests they give even though that is the best teacher training available. Remember the hated-by-teachers adage that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Well, teachers need to “do.” We need to take the test.”

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s almost never done. Teachers will claim they’re short of time, but in fact it’s because they don’t want to see the results.”

Teachers whose students are subject to standardized exams – AP, New York Regents, etc. – often rely too much on course review material compiled, edited and distributed by outside sources. These can be handy, but there’s plenty of value in sitting down and taking the test.

You know your curriculum best. You probably designed it and, at the least, you implement it each day. If you stumble on certain parts of the test, your students will likely do the same. Self-testing helps identify curricular shortcomings before your students take the test.

There are additional benefits:

“Taking the test proves something else to our students: It proves that we are not “too good” to do the work we assign, and that we believe in what we do. Since humility is always a good thing, I’m not ashamed to admit that I never get 100 percent on this test.”

Not only should you take tests while designing your curriculum, you should also take the practice exams as your students take them. If you think that’s unnecessary, consider this:

“When some of my students get an answer correct that I’ve missed, their smiles spread from Fairfax to Loudoun, and last the rest of the week. For that alone, taking the test is worth it.”

Spending an hour on a test is a small price to pay to help your students maintain an interest in the AP exam. A little friendly competition might even spice up their preparation.

Are Advanced Placement / AP Courses Important in College Admissions?

what's the value in Advanced Placement / AP?

I use Google Alerts to track news and blog articles on several different topics – it’s a handy way to keep up with current issues in education. Yesterday I received an alert from College Planning Specialists called A.P. Classes: Are These Courses as Important as Your Guidance Councilor [sic] Claims? I normally wouldn’t respond to an education article in which “counselor” is spelled incorrectly in the title, but this piece’s content is representative of the attitudes expressed in too much of the professional analysis of AP’s role in the college admissions process. I’ll react to each paragraph.

AP courses, the most advanced college prep classes available at the high school level, may have unforeseen detrimental effects upon a student’s ability to gain entrance into a top flight university. Often thought of as invaluable tools in the quest to impress discerning university admissions officers, AP classes are being evaluated differently by high schools than they are by universities.

AP courses are, indeed, the most advanced curriculum readily available to talented, high-achieving high school students. The AP curriculum isn’t designed to impress admissions officers, though; it’s designed to give appropriate coursework opportunities to students who can – and want to – handle the material. Like any challenging endeavor in academia, AP courses can be invaluable or detrimental – that much is true. And consequently, any challenge is interpreted differently by each stakeholder in the educational process.

The biggest pitfall remains the over scheduling of AP courses during a high school students [sic] curriculum. The majority of intelligent high school kids can and do excel in college level AP courses. The problems arise when students take 3-4-5 AP courses during a particular semester. More often than not one of these classes is far too difficult for the student; consequently the student dedicates huge chunks of time to one course. This time disparity usually leads to suffering grades in all a student’s course work.

Scheduling AP classes to fit in the increasingly-demanding, cramped lives of college-bound high schoolers is an issue that needs to be considered in every individual case. However, scheduling has nothing to do with the AP classes themselves or the value they bring to a student’s education. When making that decision, the focus should not be on grades – the most important factor is the student’s education. Parents, counselors and students need to ask, “Is this beneficial to the student’s education?” instead of, “Will this affect his GPA?” That is, if the decision-makers are committed to education rather than playing the admissions game.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon your point of view, grades remain the driving force behind college admissions. The real catch and pitfall is that MOST colleges do not accept “weight” GPA’s when considering a student for admission. The high school gives added credit for difficulty but the colleges do not consider the difficulty level of AP course work when factoring in GPA for admissions according to Ron Caruthers of College Planning Specialists.

This interpretation depends on how you view the purpose of higher education. Is it to receive a degree or to prepare yourself to achieve whatever goals you’ve set – or may set in the future? Essentially, it’s a decision to play the game or commit to education. And yes, there’s a difference.

College admissions officers aren’t dumb. They know the difference between applicant A, who has a 4.0 and took two Advanced Placement / AP classes and applicant B, who has a 3.2 and took seven APs. Based on just that information, who would you rather matriculate? Me too.

Most competitive institutions simply can’t spend hours poring over each submission, but they’ve done this before – thousands of times a year. They look at what’s behind that GPA. And, if an admissions office only analyzes you on the surface, throwing numbers and information into an aggregating formula and making their decision, do you really want to go there?

Again, it’s about matching up your interests and background with the educational opportunities an institution has to offer – not about playing the game.

Caruthers goes on to state that high school admissions councilors [sic] are telling only half the truth when they advise their students to load up on AP course work. High schools do weight AP course grades much higher than normal high school classes; often an AP course “B” grade is counted as an “A” by many high schools. Unfortunately colleges count all grades equally meaning an “A” is an “A” and a “B” is a “B.”

Caruthers states that the reason for this disparity is that “most high schools are ranked by the number of students taking AP courses. . . ” consequently it is to the high schools’ advantage to push students to take AP courses regardless of the effects it may have on those students.

Anyone who’s dipped a toe into public education’s icy waters knows the methodology behind Newsweek’s rankings – and the value those rankings do and don’t carry. Admissions officers don’t take these rankings seriously. That’s why they request that a student’s guidance counselor submit a school profile with the application. That profile tells them what they need to know – if they don’t know it already – about a school’s enrollment, achievement, etc. It gives them context within which they can evaluate a candidate’s application.

It’s true that schools’ AP offerings are driven by many factors – mostly benevolent. But claiming that students’ educations are harmed out of a sinister desire to raise a school’s [irrelevant] profile does a disservice to all who are involved in public education.

What is the right answer in regards to AP course work for your student? As a rule of thumb, have a student take as many AP courses as they can without hurting their GPA. It is a tough call as AP courses have benefits, challenging curriculum-time management-higher expectations, but remember that in the college admissions game-GPA is king.

Not my thumb. A student should take as many AP classes as he can handle in such a way that he masters the curriculum. That’s the value of an AP course; GPA is a secondary consideration at best. Though a GPA should, in theory, be a certification of a student’s knowledge and performance, that is seldom true. I know it, teachers know it, students know it, administrators know it, those combating grade inflation know it – and so do college admissions officers.

And if GPA is King, you don’t want to be in that castle. Wouldn’t you rather focus on getting an education?

victorian line

Dowling is a private Long Island college offering undergraduate and graduate degrees through our four schools: Business, Education, Arts and Sciences and Aviation.

What Blogging Is All About: Some Interesting Conversations in the Comments

Woman Screaming, source: VoxPopuli

Thankfully, we don’t have to scream on the internet to make sure someone across the country can hear. We just type out comments.

The most valuable component of blogging – and also the element I personally like the most – is the opportunity to present information and then read reactions to it. And not just read those reactions, but react to them, get a counter-reaction, etc. When blogging gurus like Debbie Weil use the word “conversation” to describe this phenomenon, they hit the nail on the head.

I’d like to point readers toward a few valuable conversations that are happening on this website:

  • Whereas “Why We Should Blog in Education, Part I” didn’t generate much feedback, Part II did. Prospective school board candidates and current members weighed in and gave us some insight about how they approach blogging and communication in general. I do like the trend I’m seeing: increasingly open communication and a hefty respect for the laws that mandate it.
  • Reactions to the AP Audit. “Teachers Cynical About Advanced Placement / AP Audit” led to a good ongoing discussion about the motivations and effectiveness of the College Board’s audit of AP curricula. I’ve gotten quite a few e-mails about this, which is why I’ve decided to wait a little longer before producing a follow-up piece. In short, the motivations for the audit and the audit in practice are separate issues that I’d like to address properly – and after the audit has run its course. What have your experiences been like? What’s your take on the audit?
  • Opinions on the dismissal of a teacher with a backbone. The outpouring of support for a Texas teacher who refused to alter the grades of students was incredible. After her story broke, we saw several reports from across the nation of school officials pressuring teachers to change grades – and if that failed, changing the grades themselves. This is a serious issue in public education; those teachers and administrators who value integrity should be applauded.

If you haven’t yet weighed in, go for it, and if you have – or don’t want to – the comments are worth reading in full. Remember, conversation is what our sites are all about.

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