kill the computer
None allowed in this summer math camp.


The argument that each student needs an IPad or other technology to become a ‘global citizen’ and learn math might not be true.  Have you seen any research showing this to be a valid statement?  When Scott Joftus of Cross & Joftus stated five years ago that

“You know we’re in a new era when school turnaround firms in the U.S. are being funded out of the Middle East,” Joftus said. “To me, that says there’s money to be made. I call this period the Wild West in education.”

it’s a good bet that the reformers are in it for the money, not the children.  When children are referred to as human capital and viewed as workers for the workforce, it’s increasingly apparent to many that this ‘education reform’ is primarily for the venture capitalists and private corporations.

Can we educate students to become ‘college and career ready’ without the expense of computer infrastructure, computers and other cutting edge technology?  Is it possible, even thinkable, that students can learn without mandates from private organizations directing public education?  According to this story in the Wall Street Journal, Math Camp in a Barn: Intensive Instruction, No-Nonsense Discipline, the answer is a resounding yes:

When her grandmother dropped Anaiya Holman at Ben Chavis’s farm the second week in June, the young girl was not happy. School had let out for the summer the day before and the soon to be sixth grader did not want to be stuck in a classroom learning math until July. She screamed and cried and kicked Mr. Chavis, who was unfazed, according to other students. Anaiya had softened up by the following week. “I want to be a vet,” she told me. And when Friday afternoon came around, she asked Mr. Chavis if she could stay for the weekend.

This is the fourth year that Mr. Chavis, a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe, has invited children from Robeson County in grades 5 to 9 to learn math for three weeks at his 200-acre cattle farm in a barn converted into five air-conditioned classrooms. Most of the 50 or so children are also Lumbees—the county is 40% Indian—though he also has a few who identify as black or Hispanic.

The students are from Robeson County, NC, where close to half of them live in families below the poverty line.  Most of these households are headed by single mothers.  These are the type of students we are told that Common Core State Standards Initiative are supposed to help via these four assurances embedded in the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund:

  • having one set of expectations (college and career ready standards) for all students
  • ensuring highly effective teachers for all students
  • creating a personalized dashboard of data tracking to determine progress or lack of progress
  • turnaround options for ‘failing schools’

The Federal Government has decided that students aren’t performing to the goals it has deemed appropriate for them.  So it sets more goals that are expensive and aren’t based on research for effectiveness.  Let’s see how Mr. Chavis runs his Lumberton NC school house without the four assurances and the results:

If Mr. Chavis provided only a disciplined, safe environment every day, it would be a public service. But this camp is so much more. From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday the children learn math, interspersed with some reading, physical education and lunch. Each gets 120 hours of instruction during the three weeks, equivalent to what they would get in a year at a typical public school.

The public schools nearby seem hopelessly inadequate. In 2012 only 11% of high-school juniors in Robeson County met the state’s standards for passing the math portion of the ACT text (which is similar to the SAT). Students and parents told me that even if students received Ds and Fs on their report cards they were sent to the next grade. One fifth-grade student I saw was stumped by problems like 11-6=?

On Mr. Chavis’s farm students don’t switch classrooms during the day; the rooms all have restrooms and water fountains. Teachers drill math concepts over and over. They use flashcards, ask children to do problems on the dry-erase boards and to compete with one another to get answers right.

The closest thing these classrooms have to technology is an electric pencil sharpener. Students are given about two hours of homework each night. Detention (which can involve anything from washing windows and emptying the garbage to shoveling manure) is given for infractions such as tardiness, talking back to teachers or failing to turn in homework.

The method, as old-fashioned as it sounds, works. In 2001 Mr. Chavis took over the failing American Indian Public Charter School. His strict standards and no-nonsense attitude earned him the ire of many school administrators but also the respect of low-income neighborhood parents. During Mr. Chavis’s tenure as principal, the charter became one of the highest-performing schools in California.

Unlike many of the education reformers and bureaucrats who are creating/championing Common Core, Mr. Chavis grew up poor and attended public schools.  He has children, unlike some of the CCSSI reformers.  His own children attend the camp and he said in the interview, I want them to know they’re not better than these people here. They just have more opportunities.

A reader’s comment from the WSJ article:

“The closest thing these classrooms have to technology is an electric pencil sharpener”

The arrogant reigning technocrats and technologists, the crony-capitalist technology giants looking for government to demand the need for their products, and their useful idiots fellow travelers in academia and the media would claim no child could learn math under such conditions.

Yet, they do; imagine that!!!!


Don’t miss the subtitle in the article:


In North Carolina’s poorest county, Indian children get the equivalent of a year’s schooling in three weeks.


Do you think the education reformers have it all wrong?  Do you get the feeling that these CCSS reforms are really not for the children at all?  How can Mr. Chavis accomplish in three weeks that it takes a NC public school one year to teach?  How can students possibly learn math without interactive tools?  Is direct instruction and possessing foundational knowledge of math more important than having teachers as ‘guides on the side’ and collaborative and creative methods of solving math?

Who do you think is most effective in helping students becoming college/career ready and accepting personal responsibility?  The bureaucrats or Mr. Chavis?



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