Essays and Opinions on K-12 Education

By Bas Braams

This page contains links to some of my writings about education. The focus is on mathematics and science curriculum and content standards at the K-12 level and on issues of education research, but occasionally I'm tempted to write about education policy or about matters of curriculum other than math and science. Please see also my page Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education, which offers annotated links to articles, news items, books, and web-sites that have influenced my thinking, or that at least share my focus and perspective, and that I would recommend to visitors of this page.

Review of PISA Sample Science Unit 1: Stop That Germ, November 29, 2004. "The misery of this PISA sample science item doesn't end with the bad questions and answers and the apparent inability of the PISA science staff to think like a competent scientist in the given context. They even got the story wrong!"... [more]

Review of PISA Sample Science Unit 2: Peter Cairney, November 29, 2004. "...even worse than Unit 1"... [more]

Apples to Apples: An Evaluation of Charter Schools Serving General Student Populations (July 2003). Comments on a Manhattan Institute working paper of Jay P. Greene, Marcus A. Winters, and Greg Forster. The study claims to find a small but true performance advantage of charter schools over public schools serving similar populations. A closer look shows that the authors confuse the ability of schools to improve themselves with their ability to improve their students... [more]

Comments on the June, 2003, New York Regents Math A Exam (June, 2003). The Regents Math A exam that was given on June 17, 2003, has received much negative press attention. I don't know that there is any serious analysis of the exam to be found yet, so my brief comments may be of interest... [more]

Comments on Education and the European Union. A page in progress (May 2003). The immediate occasion for starting the page was a curious press release on European Benchmarks for Education... [more]

Testing High Stakes Tests: Can We Believe the Results of Accountability Tests? (March 2003). Comments on a Manhattan Institute report of Jay P. Greene, Marcus A. Winters, and Greg Forster. The report finds a strong positive correlation between results on high stakes and on low stakes tests and concludes from that that high stakes test results are not negatively distorted by "teaching to the test". I discuss that argument... [more]

Reviews of UCSMP Everyday Mathematics, by BJB with Elizabeth Carson and NYC HOLD (Ongoing). A collection of links with annotation... [more]

Spiraling through UCSMP Everyday Mathematics (March 2003). The spiral nature and the concept of distributed practice illustrated by the fourth grade coverage of whole number multiplication and division... [more]

Some questions about the Children First process and outcome (March 2, 2003). An email to Ms. Eva Moskowitz, Chair of the NYC Council Education Committee, with suggestions for questions to ask of Chancellor Klein at an upcoming hearing... [more]

Joel Klein's Math Problems, (op-ed, the New York Sun, Feb 6, 2003). About the choice of Everyday Mathematics as the standard curriculum for NYC elementary schools. "Mr. Klein would do well to reverse himself and listen to the advice about successful curricula that mathematicians and others have provided to him and his staff"... [more]

The Many Ways of Arithmetic in UCSMP Everyday Mathematics (Feb 2003). An overview of the program's multiple algorithms for paper and pencil whole number arithmetic... [more]

Chancellor Joel I. Klein's "Children First" New Standard Curriculum for NYC Public Schools (Dec, 2002, and Ongoing). News and commentary on the Children First "New Agenda" and its Blueprint for Reform, with a focus on mathematics instruction. Includes documentation of the efforts of New York City HOLD to influence Children First for the better... [more]

The NYC DOE "Children First" Working Groups (Dec 2002 and ongoing). A sequence of requests under the Freedom of Information Law with the aim to discover the charge to and reports of the major Children First working groups. It has become apparent that these groups operated without formal charge and did not produce a formal report... [more]

Two Letters to NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (Dec 17 and 18, 2002). The first letter recalls my predictions about the Children First initiative and expresses interest in a conversation about mathematics education. The second letter emphasizes the contributions that subject matter experts can make to Children First... [more]

Two Letters to Mr. Evan Rudall, Chair of Children First Numeracy Working Group, Dec 11 and 12, 2002. I discuss some specific curricula on the assumption that they may be of interest to the working group. I also emphasize that (contrary to the Children First process) the curricular decisions for New York City should be made in close cooperation with subject matter experts... [more]

Letter to NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Nov 26, 2002. Some dire predictions for the outcome of Phase 1 of the Children First initiative, followed by constructive suggestions and reading advice... [more]

Predictions for Chancellor Joel Klein's Children First Initiative (Nov 26, 2002). My main prediction is that in January, 2003, as he announces the results of the first phase of Children First, Chancellor Klein will lock himself into a curriculum reform driven by the ideologies of balanced whole language instruction, NCTM-style constructivist mathematics, and continued bilingual education for English language learners. The lock will last for the remainder of his tenure... [more]

Survey response for Children First Numeracy Working Group (Nov 10, 2002). My responses to a survey developed and distributed by the Children First Numeracy Working Group of the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE)... [more]

Math Problems ("A Mom Becomes a Math Maverick"). Letters, Our Town, Nov 28, 2002. About curricular mandates in NYC's District 2... [more]

About Diana Lam, NYC Deputy Chancellor, dated October, 2002. This was meant as a start to a more comprehensive description of Ms. Lam's efforts in education reform, but has so far remained at the level of just a few links and snippets... [more]

[2002/09] Volk und Wissen / Kamp: Mathematik Plus. Content summaries and reviews of Grades 5-9 of a textbook series for German Gymnasium. My assessment is that the series starts off with high expectations for the students in Grade 5, but it loses momentum in the higher Grades and the level at the end of Grade 9 is quite disappointing.

[2002/07b] Shelley Harwayne and mathematics. Shelley Harwayne is Superintendent of New York City Community School District 2. Earlier she was the founding principal of the Manhattan New School. Ms. Harwayne is a nationally recognized personality in the area of language and literacy teaching, and also wrote some words about mathematics education.

* [2002/07a] Mathematics in the OECD PISA Assessment. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment was developed by an international team of people prominent in educational research and reform. The test appears to have been heavily influenced by philosophies of authentic assessment and realistic mathematics education, and offers a valuable perspective on the philosophy and politics of this international mathematics education community.

[2002/06b] A Letter to the Editor of de Volkskrant. (In Dutch.) The occasion for this Letter to the Editor was a piece about the strange difference between the performance of Dutch and of German pupils on international comparison exams (i.e., PISA). I don't think it strange at all.

[2002/06a] Educational trends in the USA and the Netherlands. Two letters to Dutch friends, colleagues, and other interested parties. The first is from May, 2002. Elections were being held on May 15, and a week before the elections Pim Fortuyn, leader of a new party, was assassinated. The second letter was written a few weeks later. Both are to be read in the context of the formation of a new government following the elections. (In Dutch.)

[2002/03b] Thoughts on the Federal role in education research, written in capsule form for the benefit of the NYC HOLD and Kto15 groups.

[2002/03a] Notes on the Math and Science Partnership legislation. These notes are from March, 2002, as the MSP legislation was working its way through the United States Congress. They were written for colleagues and interested parties in government.

[2002/02] Learning and Understanding: The NAS/NRC study of AP-IB Programs. Notes on a National Research Council study of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. The study is "Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in US High Schools", by the Committee on Programs for Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in American High Schools (Jerry P. Gollub, Meryl W. Bertenthal, Jay B. Labov, and Philip C. Curtis Jr., eds.).

[2002/01c] For the adoption of California's new Science Framework. This letter was sent on 02/01/29 to Mr. Reed Hastings, and later to other members of the California State Board of Education, to urge adoption of California's new Science Framework. The framework was adopted in a meeting in early February.

[2002/01b] A letter to the NYC Board of Education urging them to forego $9M in Federal moneys supporting constructivist Math Ed reform. The Board decided to take the money.

[2002/01a] OECD PISA: Programme for International Student Assessment. Remarks about the content and philosophy of this successor or competitor to TIMSS. The results of the first OECD/PISA study were released in December, 2001. There was lots of reporting in the press around that time, in the United States and also in Europe. This is a condensation of three postings that I contributed on Jan 3, 2002, to the NYC HOLD and Kto15 mailing lists.

[2001/12b] A Letter to Mr. Dennis Walcott, NYC Deputy Mayor for Policy (Designate). With the new Bloomberg administration coming in on January 1, 2002, I thought it would be useful to offer the incoming Deputy Mayor for Policy, whose responsibilities include Education, some quiet advice.

[2001/12a] A letter to the NYC Board of Education opposing a resolution to establish a new academically oriented Upper East Side High School. I argue that the school as envisaged in the resolution will not offers a challenging college preparatory curriculum and a strong academic content focus.

[2001/08] Standard Algorithms for Mental Arithmetic. A short note about the existence and the importance of such algorithms. This was a contribution to a discussion on the Kto15 list in August, 2001.

* [2001/06] NSES The National Science Education Standards. Two letters to the Committee on Education of the American Physical Society offering a critique of the NSES. In the first letter I asked the members of this APS committee to take a public stance against these standards for their extreme focus on inquiry at the expense of content. Following a detailed reply by two of the addressees, a second letter clarified some points of disagreement.

[2001/04b] Experimenting with Students? My side of an email exchange with Eric Hanushek occasioned by his essay of that title. Professor Hanushek was at that time member of an NAS/NRC Committee on Scientific Principles of Education Research, and my correspondence (cc'ed to other members of the committee) was also an attempt to influence the efforts of that group. The attempt was unsuccessful, as became apparent when the committee's report "Scientific Research in Education" was published (National Academy Press, 2002).

* [2001/04a] Mathematics Education Research. The essay reflects some long evenings spent in the Mathematics Education section of the NYU main library.

[2001/01] Report on a visit to the Freudenthal Institute. Over the Christmas holidays 2000/2001 I was in the Netherlands and visited the Freudenthal Institute, the home place of Realistic Mathematics Education. These are my impressions. Also in Dutch.

All writings (c) 2001+ Bas Braams. In general these writings were prepared as plain text email, and very limited html formatting was added later.

* Item noted with emphasis.

Bastiaan J. Braams
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
New York University
251 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012-1185

Starting in September, 2003:
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Emory University
Mathematics and Science Center Suite W401
400 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by New York University.