Monday, January 30, 2006

The problem with Math

I've been attending curriculum meetings because that's my special interest. I've taught at every level if only briefly and over the past thirty years much of my computer science career has been dedicated to automating manual or ineffective business processes.

Now, I am not actually ON the curriculum committee but that's a whole other story.

The point of this post really is that I strongly felt that EO Smith was academically doing a pretty good job of educating our kids. At face value this seemed to be the case. The more exposure I have to the teachers and curriculum the less enamored I am with what I seeing and hearing.

Lately there's a push to force MORE math as a prerequisite for graduation. We had a lively discussion on the subject. The math department continues to disappoint me in their offerings (more about that in a future posting).

But the decision about math was put on hold for want of more information. The LA Times series we read yesterday continues talking about California's experience with the genre:

The course that traditionally distinguished the college-bound from others has denied vast numbers of students a high school diploma.

"It triggers dropouts more than any single subject," said Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer. "I think it is a cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system."

When the Los Angeles Board of Education approved tougher graduation requirements that went into effect in 2003, the intention was to give kids a better education and groom more graduates for college and high-level jobs. For the first time, students had to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry or an equivalent class to earn diplomas.

The policy was born of a worthy goal but has proved disastrous for students unprepared to meet the new demands.

In the fall of 2004, 48,000 ninth-graders took beginning algebra; 44% flunked, nearly twice the failure rate as in English. Seventeen percent finished with Ds.

In all, the district that semester handed out Ds and Fs to 29,000 beginning algebra students — enough to fill eight high schools the size of Birmingham.

Among those who repeated the class in the spring, nearly three-quarters flunked again.

The school district could have seen this coming if officials had looked at the huge numbers of high school students failing basic math.

Lawmakers in Sacramento didn't ask questions either. After Los Angeles Unified changed its policy, legislators turned algebra into a statewide graduation requirement, effective in 2004.

Now the Los Angeles school board has raised the bar again. By the time today's second-graders graduate from high school in 2016, most will have to meet the University of California's entry requirements, which will mean passing a third year of advanced math, such as algebra II, and four years of English.


"If you want to believe you're for standards, you're going to make kids take algebra. It has that ring of authenticity," said Robert Balfanz, an associate research scientist with the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "But you're not really thinking through the implications. There may be no good reason why algebra is essential for all high school students."

What we are beginning to examine here is education policy run amok. Politicians and overpaid administrative zealots are cheered for advocating ever higher and tougher standards as our children are sacrificed to this nonsense - a generation of unwitting sheep being led to educational slaughter.

We have got to re-evaluate what we're doing and no question is too obvious to ask. The more anyone truly examines the devastating after affects of NCLB and its zealot army of fools the more one remembers an old NAACP homily, A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Except these days we are witnessing with quaint disregard the wasting of generations of students to whom the love of learning and the tools of intellect are being systematically destroyed nationwide.

And, as the bad joke goes, our school is contemplating following the lemmings over that same cliff.

Connecticut has to wake up. This is the Land of Yankee Ingenuity for cripes sakes. Why are are schools dissolving into idiocy? At EO I'd like the Board to re-evaluate our math program and re-calibrate it to the needs of the community and students and I'd like to see the State Department of Education get out of the way and let some schools re-vitalize their curriculum including Region 19.

Can the legislature put a moratorium on NCLB? Get this educational policy cancer off our backs.

No comments: