Singular Minds
February 1, 2006• Volume II, Issue 5
Prolinguistica Dyslexia Correction Center
Laura Zink de Diaz

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Quote of the Month
An analysis of the 2003 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reports surprising results. Christopher and Sarah Lubienski find that traditional public school students score higher in mathematics than students in private and charter schools, once demographic characteristics and school location are taken into account. Specifically, fourth grade public school students outscore private and charter school students by between 4 and 12 points. A 10-11 point difference on the NAEP is generally viewed as representing a difference of one grade level. Findings were mixed at the eighth grade level. Public school students scored below Lutheran private school and charter school students, but outperformed Catholic, Conservative Christian, and other private school types. ... Overall, this analysis undermines the common perception that private institutions provide a superior learning experience relative to public schools. In the past, research has suggested that the need to compete for students forces private schools to operate efficiently and focus on improving educational outcomes. Charter schools and vouchers, as well as the choice provisions located in No Child Left Behind are based on this argument. However, this study suggests that privatization and choice-based policies are not quick fixes to the problems found in education. New Occasional Papers from the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education can be viewed at:


Clay Night, Support Group and Singular Minds

Reminder: I will be out of the country from February 15 to April 15, so until further notice Clay Nights and Support Group meetings are cancelled. If I have sufficient access to the internet to continue producing Singular Minds while abroad, I will. But there's no guarantee, so expect the next issue to arrive in early May. If you need to contact me while I'm out of the country, I can be reached via email at:

Good Stuff to Read

Final Exam Blues
By Steven W. Simpson, Ph.D.
I hate final exams. Always have. I hated them when I was in school and I hate them now, teaching school. It just seems like some kind of medieval kid torture that is left over from the bad old days. We used to whack kids with yardsticks. We can’t do that any more, so we torture them with hour and a half, brain-killing memorization trauma. Really. When was the last time you actually used any of the skills required to pass a final exam? ... Tests, generally, are icky, but final exams are the smelly worst. We spend 20 weeks working with the kids, helping them read and write and think. We teach them to plan and organize and function effectively in the real world. Then, after all of those weeks and months preparing them for reality, we drop a nightmare on them, an unreal, scary, grade-determining collection of generally useless information to memorize and spew back on enough bubble sheets to clear-cut a forest the size of Iowa. Read the rest at:

Recommendations from the Lazy Reader Book Club
Children - We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen), 32 pages. Great for interactive read-alouds with children, as there is so much repetition and fun motions that go along
with this story. A must-have for every library.

Children - Love to Langston (Tony Medina), 40 pages. A great introduction to free verse
poetry for children, as Langston's story is told in free verse.

Children - How Groundhog's Garden Grew (Lynne Cherry), 40 pages. For Groundhog Day! A great little story loaded with information that kids will find interesting about how different things in nature work together.

Young adult - The Borrowers (Mary Norton), 192 pages. All about those little people living in the floorboards recycling our matchboxes for storage units and stamps for paintings. A classic, sure to interest everyone.

Young adult - Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Parker J. Palmer), 128 pages. Paints the life lessons of Palmer as he tried to emulate others before
discovering that he was unlike anyone else. Every child needs to understand that s/he is unique and important to the world.

Remember, there is no cost to sign up for this service, and you can sign up for the monthly e-mail newsletter with book recommendations at:

Trial and Error
By David Dobbs - NYTimes Magazine
Many of us consider science the most reliable, accountable way of explaining how the world works. We trust it. Should we? John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist, recently concluded that most articles published by biomedical journals are flat-out wrong. The sources of error, he found, are numerous: the small size of many studies, for instance, often leads to mistakes, as does the fact that emerging disciplines, which lately abound, may employ standards and methods that are still evolving. Finally, there is bias, which Ioannidis says he believes to be ubiquitous. Bias can take the form of a broadly held but dubious assumption, a partisan position in a longstanding debate (e.g., whether depression is mostly biological or environmental) or (especially slippery) a belief in a hypothesis that can blind a scientist to evidence contradicting it. These factors, Ioannidis argues, weigh especially heavily these days and together make it less than likely that any given published finding is true. Read the rest at:

Get in Line for "No Cow Left Behind"
Kenneth Remsen -
As a principal facing the task of figuring out all the complexities of the No Child Left Behind legislation and its impact on education, I have decided that there is a strong belief that testing students is the answer to bringing about improvements in student performance. Since testing seems to be a cornerstone to improving performance, I don't understand why this principle isn't applied to other businesses that are not performing up to expectations. I was thinking about the problem of falling milk prices and wondering why testing cows wouldn't be effective in bringing up prices since testing students is going to bring up test scores. The federal government should mandate testing all cows every year starting at age 2. Still a great spoof, read it at:

Schools Waking Up to Teens' Unique Sleep Needs
Some Officials Are Pushing Back Start Times to Give Students the Slumber Their Biology Craves
By Valerie Strauss - Washington Post Staff Writer
Brown University Prof. Mary Carskadon thinks most U.S. school systems should pay close attention to what she found in the saliva of teenagers. If they did, she said, high schools would start later than they do, and teachers would educate students about a subject as basic as reading and math: sleep. Carskadon, who teaches human behavior and is director of sleep research at E.P. Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island, led a team of researchers who helped prove that -- biologically speaking -- teenagers really are out of it early in the morning... In 1996, the suburban school system of Edina, Minn., changed its start time for 3,000 high school students from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Two years later, Minneapolis followed suit for more than 50,000 teenagers. Teachers reported that students were more alert, and research conducted by Wahlstrom showed a range of benefits to students and teachers -- and contradicted some of the biggest fears about the change: that after-school sports and jobs would suffer.
Read the rest at:

Maths misconceptions
Everyone knows the feeling of struggling with a task that other people seem to breeze through. It might be programming the DVD player or even just reading maps. Well, this is how some kids feel with maths, and their difficulties are often rooted in misunderstandings of concepts that we, as teachers, don't give a second thought to. How much could we help them make progress if we were more aware of these misconceptions, and were able to tackle them head-on? We all know, after all, that understanding our mistakes can be a powerful learning experience. With the help of Tim Coulson, who leads the National Numeracy Strategy, we've put together a list of some of the most common, and potentially most obstructive, of these misconceptions, and suggest some approaches that might put things right.
Find out what's on their list, and get some links to more information at:

No Child's Behind Left: The Test
By Greg Palast
New York -- Today and tomorrow every 8-year-old in the state of New York will take a test. It's part of George Bush's No Child Left Behind program. The losers will be left behind to repeat the third grade. Try it yourself. This is from the state's actual practice test. Ready,
"The year 1999 was a big one for the Williams sisters. In February, Serena won her first pro singles championship. In March, the sisters met for the first time in a tournament final. Venus won. And at doubles tennis, the Williams girls could not seem to lose that year." And here's one of the four questions:
"The story says that in 1999, the sisters could not seem to lose at doubles tennis. This probably means when they played
"A two matches in one day
"B against each other
"C with two balls at once
"D as partners"
OK, class, do you know the answer? (By the way, I didn't cheat: there's nothing else about "doubles" in the text.) My kids go to a New York City school in which more than half the students live below the poverty line. There is no tennis court. There are no tennis courts in the elementary schools of Bed-Stuy or East Harlem. But out in the Hamptons, every school has a tennis court. In Forest Hills, Westchester and Long Island's North Shore, the schools have nearly as many tennis courts as the school kids have live-in maids... Is this test a measure of "reading comprehension" -- or a measure of wealth accumulation?
Palast is mad! - Read the rest at:

The growing education crisis of boys
Michael Gurian
Colleges and universities across America are grappling with the mysteriously vanishing male. Where men once dominated, they now make up no more than 43 percent of students at American institutions of higher learning, according to 2003 statistics. And this trend shows every sign of continuing unabated. There is some controversy among educators as to whether the "boy crisis" is overstated, or misinterpreted. Read why family therapist, Gurian, thinks this has been happening and what we should do about it at:

DIBELS:The Perfect Literacy Test

By Ken Goodman, Professor Emeritus Language, Reading and Culture, University of Arizona
Language Magazine, V5:1 pp24-27 2005-12
... What makes DIBELS the perfect literacy test is that it takes total control of the academic futures and school lives of the children it reaches from the first day they enter kindergarten when they are barely five years old. It keeps control of their literacy development and indeed their whole school experience for four years from kindergarten through third grade. And the more poorly the children respond to DIBELS the more they experience it.
Got children in elementary school? If you do they are probably being DIBELED. This is a longish article, but I strongly suggest that you read it all; it's important that you know what's happening to your kids - especially if your child has a unique learning style.

And as a follow up to Goodman...
An Evaluation of End-Grade-3 DIBELS
BDynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS): Speed Reading Without Comprehension, Predicting Little
by Michael Pressley, Katherine Hilden, Rebecca Shankland
Michigan State University
From the Abstract: End grade-3 students in one school district were administered the DIBELS oral fluency (with retelling) measure, with either standard directions, directions to read quickly, or directions to read for understanding. The pattern of performance in the standard condition was more consistent with students interpreting the test as a test of speeded reading. Comprehension of what was read was low, especially when the retelling data were scored with respect to idea units. Moreover, DIBELS was only weakly predictive of how the students performed on a subsequent standardized reading assessment, the TerraNova. When considered in light of previously reported data, the case is made that additional evaluation of the DIBELS should be carried out by parties other than its developers and those already committed to use of the measurement, evaluating its predictive validity with respect to a wide range of reading achievement measures. Based on available data, the fairest conclusion is that DIBELS mis-predicts reading performance on other assessments much of the time, and at best is a measure of who reads quickly without regard to whether the reader comprehends what is read.
The study can be downloaded from the internet in PDF format (, or you can read it on line at:


That's it for this month. If you need to contact me while I'm out of the country, feel free to send me an email ( You can be sure I'll get back to you as quickly as possible, no matter where I am!

Next Issue of Singular Minds: early May, 2006

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