kitchen table math, the sequel: Jay Matthews on good middle schools

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jay Matthews on good middle schools

Over the last few months, we have asked readers to tell us about the best middle schools they have encountered. Having heard so many horror stories, it was a surprise to read e-mails and letters from more than 500 parents, students, educators and community members pointing out great teachers and wise principals making real progress with children at that itchy age. [ed.: I'm surprised] The results are the following snapshots, in alphabetical order, of 30 area middle schools that are doing things right.

We have provided some basic information on each school, including how long each principal has been at the school and the most telling and universal measure of a middle school's level of challenge: what percentage of eighth-graders complete Algebra I.

source:
Unstuck in the Middle
Jay Matthews
WAPO
Sunday, April 15, 2007; Page W12



I count at least 5 affluent middle schools in the bunch. There may be more, but I don't feel like looking them all up on School Matters.


Here are the 5:

Capitol Hill Day School
D.C., 225 students, pre-kindergarten to 8; principal Catherine Peterson (22 years); tuition $20,590; 62 percent white, 38 percent other; 100 percent completed algebra.

Rachel Carson Middle School
Herndon, Fairfax County, 1,149 students, grades 7 and 8; principal August "Augie" Fratalli (four years); 6 percent low income, 59 percent white, 6 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 28 percent Asian; 64 percent completed algebra.

Cooper Middle School
McLean, Fairfax County, 931 students, grades 7 and 8; principal Arlene Randall (10 years); 1 percent low income, 76 percent white, 1 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian; 59 percent completed algebra.

Kilmer Middle School
Vienna, Fairfax County, 1,070 students, grades 7 to 8; principal Deborah Hernandez (two years); 12 percent low income, 59 percent white, 4 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian; 54 percent completed algebra.

Piccowaxen Middle School
Newburg, Charles County, 492 students, grades 6 to 8; principal Kenneth Schroeck (1 year); 14.2 percent low income, 81 percent white, 16 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic, 0.4 percent Asian; 44 percent completed algebra.



compare and contrast

Irvington Middle School: approximately 30% complete algebra

$21,000 per pupil spending

18 comments:

SusanS said...

Now that's something to pass around at the next PTA meeting. With your Irvington additions.

LynnG said...

But are the top schools really teaching algebra? They might be, but I know my school claims to be teaching algebra to most of the 8th graders through the Impact Math curriculum.

Impact is "an interactive, investigation-driven math curriculum that is designed for all students in the middle grades."
Impact math "breaks the cycle of endless review" and makes 9th grade algebra "unnecessary for most students."

No really.

So I guess I'd want to know what is being taught before I applaud our winners.

Parentalcation said...

KIPP DC: KEY Academy

320 students, grades 5 to 8, principal Sarah Hayes (three years); AIM Academy, 240 students grades 5 to 7, principal Khala Johnson (two years); and WILL Academy, 160 students, grades 5 to 6, principal Jessica Cunningham (one year); schools as a whole:

75 percent low income, 99.9 percent black,

75 percent completed algebra

Nicksmama said...

I would agree with Lynng. Hold your applause until you know what curriculum they are using. The devil is in the details...

Link to FCPS middle school mathematics
http://www.fcps.edu/DIS/OMSI/mathematics/cur-mat.html

Nicksmama

Nicksmama said...

BTW, 12 Kumon franchies within 10 miles of Fairfax, Va.

I haven't bothered looking up Sylvan or Hunting yet.....but I'm sure there are a few.

Still, not bad for a county that spend $10K per pupil. Even if their parents spend a few dollars on tutoring.

SteveH said...

"$21,000 per pupil spending"

How is that calculated? In our town, they really don't like to take the total school portion of the town budget and divide by the number of students. They use all sorts of tricks to make the number look smaller. Actually, I don't know how they do it, but the number comes out a lot smaller.

Myrtle Hocklemeier said...

I'm with the "hold your applause" gang. Remember, even Singapore doesn't get around to teaching how to solve quadratic equations until the ninth grade.

Are there enough qualified middle school teachers to teach algebra in the 8th grade? Would this require training the current teachers who are currently teaching arithmetic?

Does the school use an arithmetic program that is rigorous enough to actually prepare the student for algebra a year early?

PaulaV said...

In Loudoun County (next door to Fairfax), the Glencoe math text is used for the 6th-8th grade. Algebra I and II and geometry textbooks are McDougal Littell. I think this is where Integrated Math comes in to play.

There are three Kumon sites in Loudoun and many other tutoring servies. It is more than a few dollars for Huntington. They wanted to charge me $4,000 for their services! Kumon is $75 for one subject. The Kumon that my son attends is packed.

"Does the school use an arithmetic program that is rigorous enough to actually prepare the student for algebra a year early?"

That is the question I want to know. According to a handout from my county, Scott Foresman is being used until 5th grade along with Investigations in Number, Data and Space.

How does one make the jump from such a lousy math curriculum to a decent one? Naturally, some will get it and the rest will be tracked out.

PaulaV said...

A story about Farmwell Middle School...my neighbors and I were thrilled when we read that this middle school was picked. It beat out other more "prestigious" middle schools in the area.

Boundary issues have become quite heated over the years. Parents can say some pretty awful things about children and the schools they attend.

SteveH said...

An algebra course in 8th grade is a requirement. It's hard to find a school that doesn't provide one. But, there are algebra courses and there are algebra courses.

Our public school now (finally) offers the same algebra course in 8th grade that the high school offers in 9th grade as a lead in to the honors geometry course. Since the honors geometry course is a 9th grade course for the AP track, and since it requires a grade of at least 75 in the (honors?) algebra course, then it is really a requirement for the middle schools to provide this same course. This is a no-brainer.

The problem is exactly as Paula says. How do you go from a lousy math curriculum to a good one. How do you go from Everyday Math to Dolciani? Enough kids (math brains or kids helped by tutoring) make it that the school thinks there is no problem. Many teachers and schools seem to think that algebra in 8th grade is unnatural, so they don't worry too much that only 15 percent of the kids get to algebra by 8th grade.

Even if you don't get to algebra in 8th grade, you still have to bridge the gap that Paula talks about. Looking at our high school math courses, you see a lot of remediation to bridge the gap. They have math classes with labs! Kids begin to really hate math at this point. The schools blame them for not working hard enough and the kids blame themselves. "I'm just not good in math." "I'm not a math brain." The problem is not algebra; it's everything that leads up to algebra. It's the gaps.

Math is just not that difficult, but it is cumulative and requires lots of practice, two areas where schools fail miserably. By high school, it's very difficult to fix the gaps.

Nicksmama said...

"How does one make the jump from such a lousy math curriculum to a decent one? Naturally, some will get it and the rest will be tracked out."

Well, this is just antidotal, but in one of my local middle schools, well over 1/2 of the 6th grade accelerated math students are failing to make the cut-off for the 7th grade accelerated math program.

6th grade - the rubber meets the road. These are kids who did well enough in K-5 on their SOLs, were in FOCUS (gifted) math programs, and were A/B students. Now, they can't maintain a C average in accelerated math.

SteveH said...

" ...well over 1/2 of the 6th grade accelerated math students are failing to make the cut-off for the 7th grade accelerated math program."

Is it a numbers issue? Catherine has talked about this before. Are there just so many slots for 7th grade accelerated math? If it isn't a numbers issue, then the school just can't blame it on the kids. Either way, the school has a problem.

Myrtle Hocklemeier said...

some will get it and the rest will be tracked out.

This reminds me of a corny, but legitmate, analogy I heard someplace...comparing math programs that were "sieves" to math programs that were "pumps"

It's a little sad that the kids who are in a system with great teachers, curriculum, and parents that push have their success dismissed because of inherit "mathy-ness." Catherine, you do realize that you'll work your tail off for years and if your kids are successful on their SATs neither you nor them will get any credit. They'll have gotten those scores because their naturally smart.

Catherine Johnson said...

How do you go from a lousy math curriculum to a good one. How do you go from Everyday Math to Dolciani?

What we're going to see all over the country, right about now (happening here & in Susan's town) is middle schools scrambling to get rid of their accelerated track in order to mask the problems with TRAILBLAZERS, EM, etc.

Very cool thing here. Our middle school principal attempted to get rid of the course (he needs to be fired today) but one or two very tough parents managed to keep it in place.

This means a hardy little band of 11 year olds will show up in the fall and enroll in the Phase 4 course I've been writing about for the past 2 years.

So there's not going to be any masking.

Catherine Johnson said...

Guys, guys, guys.

The point here isn't to applaud these schools (though I suspect just about any affluent school out there is doing a better job teaching algebra in 8th grade than mine is).

The point is to make a point.

To my own school.

SteveH said...

"This reminds me of a corny, but legitmate, analogy I heard someplace...comparing math programs that were 'sieves' to math programs that were 'pumps'"

This is the reform crowd's rationale for lower expectations, less rigor, no mastery, and a top-down approach using real-world problems. They claim that traditional math was a sieve or a filter - it weeded out those who couldn't cut it. Reform math claims to be "pumps" that push more kids into liking math.

This is true only if you change the definition of math. But the filter still exists. It just gets pushed back to later grades when it's too late to do anything about it.

PaulaV said...

I tell you what is sad. It is sad that I wouldn't have known what a good math curriculum was or what to do about my son's lack of math knowledge had I not contacted Bill Quirk. I wouldn't have realized until it was too late.

When I said naturally some kids would get math, I meant because their parents have realized they need to a) teach it themselves b) find a tutor.

I have purposely not told the school I placed my kid in Kumon. The school would only say, "Look, we knew he had a problem." They would never, ever look at themselves and find fault. Why should they when so many "pass" math on the SOL?

When I mentioned being concerned about the math in middle school to my son's third grader teacher, she looked at me like I was crazy.

Afterall, one parent told me, there is summer school for those who "don't get it." She said it like it was just the most natural thing in the world.

Catherine, how long did it take you to gather enough parents for the Irvington parents group? If you said, I can't remember.

Catherine Johnson said...

Catherine, how long did it take you to gather enough parents for the Irvington parents group?

Well, let's see if I actually have one!

(Trying to set up a meeting time -- not succeeding!)

Actually, it's certainly the case that I now have an informal parents group. All of these people know each other, get emails from each other, are "in the loop" etc.

I'm going to say 2 years.

AND I don't know how generalizeable the 2 years are, because the K-5 parents are so ticked off.

Nevertheless, for some reason "2 years" sounds right to me. It takes awhile for people's thoughts to gel, for people to move down the path from "I can help my child" to "Why is it up to me to teach math" to "The school needs to justify its educational practices to parents" to "The school has abused its power and we need an academic oversight committee."

If it took me 2 years to move down this path, it's going to take other people 2 years to follow the same path.