kitchen table math, the sequel: "you won't be able to maintain a B average"

Monday, September 3, 2007

"you won't be able to maintain a B average"

C's friends told me yesterday that, towards the end of last school year, Ms. K told their Phase 4 class* that some of them wouldn't be staying in accelerated math in high school, because they "wouldn't be able to maintain a B average" in 8th grade algebra this year.

C's friends came away with the impression she was telling them they were bad students. They should "face facts."

Regardless of what she had in mind making this statement, the message the students got was: a significant number of you -- enough for me to bring it up in class -- won't be able to do algebra 1 next year.

You can't do it.

Well, she's probably right. After two years in her class my own child can't tell me what 10% off a price is,** so where are we on algebra?

My experience is not unique, as I've mentioned on innumerable occasions in the past. A friend of mine, last year, whose son was in the 8th grade algebra class, asked her son to figure a 10% tip on a pizza delivery. He couldn't do it. Even with pencil & paper, he couldn't do it. He had no idea how to go about figuring 10% of a dollar amount -- and this kid hadn't had Ms. K for 2 years running as C's group has. He had spent one year with the erstwhile chair of the department, the legendary middle school math teacher who has retired and is now charging $80/hr (I believe) to tutor IMS students in math.


compare and contrast

Irvington Middle School has approximately 150 students per class.

We have 2 classes of 8th graders taking algebra this year, perhaps 40 students in all. 27% of the class

All of these kids tested into the program. For many, many years I've been hearing about "pushy parents" who get their children into Phase 4 when "they don't belong."

That's not the case here. These kids passed a difficult entrance exam and were recommended for the course by their teachers. The entire student body ought to "belong" in algebra in 8th grade as far as I'm concerned, but these kids definitely belong.

Apparently, after 2 years in the middle school accelerated math program, their ability to master algebra in 8th grade has declined.

Which brings me to KIPP.

How many 8th graders at the KIPP Academy will pass the Regents Math A exam at the end of this school year?

80%

25%
of Irvington Middle School students master algebra in 8th grade, per pupil spending $21,000

80%
of KIPP students master algebra in 8th grade, per pupil spending roughly $10,000

Speaking of KIPP, Here's David Levin:
And also what’s amazing is, our kids come in in fifth grade and we start with the time tables. We start with basic addition and subtraction and the eighth grade, all of our kids are learning algebra one. Last year [2003], 80 percent of our eighth graders passed the high school level exit exam in math here in New York, the Regents, the math A (ph). Eighty percent of our eighth graders passed the high school level exam, exit exam and less than 40 percent of our kids who are coming in in fifth grade on level. So it’s really, really exciting to see how this works.

We're running at about $9,900 per student, which is about $500, $600 less than what the Department of Education spends in New York City for middle school students. And part of what we try to do at KIPP is all the "buts" in education -- you know, but you can't do it with these kids, but you can't do it with this money, but you can't do it in this neighborhood, but you can't do it with this size class -- we're trying to take away all those "buts" in our schools. So you know, we're doing it with class size of over 30. We're doing it with the kids who, you know, traditional public schools may not have been successful with. And we're doing it with the same amount or less than the regular public schools.
Source: Interview, David Levin, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Co-Founder
December 12, 2004 C-Span


* accelerated math, 7th grade
** At least, he couldn't tell me at the beginning of the summer. Now he can.


middle school cuts number of students in Phase 4 (2005)
Doug Sundseth's IMS-KIPP graphic



19 comments:

concernedCTparent said...

Nothing like starting off the year with high expectations.

Really... the one who needs to "face the facts" in this scenarios is the teacher. Something isn't working and it's not the kids.

Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Too bad C's friends don't accept the challenge. And, it is too bad parents don't focus on what Ms. K is really saying, staying on top of the game is very hard work.

No one said getting into Yale was easy, but an essential ingredient to getting in is busting your ass!

The facts are that not all kids will make the cut. Did Ms. K make that up? I don't think so. Do you not think Ms. K wants every kid she teaches to make that cut? I think so. Not too many people get into the teaching profession wanting children to fail.

If KIPP is "all that", then fill out the paperwork and send your kid to KIPP. Or, would he/she be one of the 20% who doesn't make the grade. I wonder?

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually, I wanted to send C. to KIPP, but I couldn't persuade him.

I would love to see an exchange program between Irvington and KIPP.

If our kids went there they'd be passing Math A in 8th grade.

Catherine Johnson said...

Do you not think Ms. K wants every kid she teaches to make that cut? I think so.

I don't know what is in the mind of Ms. K, and neither do you.

I do know that she was told to "hold down the number of As."

I do know that the school has formally worked, as a matter of public policy, to suppress the number of students taking algebra in 8th grade.

I do know that the principal of the middle school attempted to kill the 6th grade accelerated math course this fall, but was blocked.

So....I don't know whether Ms. K agrees with a district policy of limiting the number of students allowed to take algebra in 8th grade, and neither do you.

I know what matters: my district openly opposes any and all requests by parents that the school educate students to the standards used in Europe and Asia.

Catherine Johnson said...

it is too bad parents don't focus on what Ms. K is really saying, staying on top of the game is very hard work

Also expensive!

When you've got Irvington teachers charging $80-$100/hr to tutor kids so they can stay on top of that game!

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder if this is why only affluent white students are placed in the accelerated class?

Catherine Johnson said...

incomplete sentence alert:

When you've got Irvington teachers charging $80-$100/hr to tutor kids so they can stay on top of that game!

sigh

SusanJ said...

Putting this post together with the earlier one as to whether there is a "huge" amount to remember as far as pre-calc math got me to thinking about whether math teaching is getting too verbose. I'm wondering if the students are missing the forest for the trees?

A while back you were doing writing exercises where you kept removing stuff. Here's my attempt to write as succintly as possible everything you need to know to do the tip on the pizza problem.
Per Cents

You can probably make this even shorter and better.

SteveH said...

"No one said getting into Yale was easy, but an essential ingredient to getting in is busting your ass!"

Algebra in 8th grade is not equivalent to getting into Yale. Besides, there are many colleges that are much better than Yale for mathematically prepared students. Notice that I said "prepared". That is what KTM is all about; making sure our kids are prepared (taught) properly. We do it ourselves, if necessary.

Undoubtedly, there will be many kids who won't do the work, but algebra in 8th grade does not require kids to bust their asses. We at KTM have spent years (!) showing this is the case over and over. It comes down to bad curricula and low expectations.

Schools and teachers cannot just go through the motions and not accept any responsibility for the results. They cannot just tell kids to bust their asses. There is absolutlely no excuse for kids getting into fifth grade without knowing the times table. Fractions and percents are just not that difficult.


"Not too many people get into the teaching profession wanting children to fail."

Sincerity and best intentions do not equal competence. Also, many of the problems are created in the early grades by schools and teachers who just push the kids along the pipeline without much concern for what they've learned.

Anonymous said...

"No one said getting into Yale was easy, but an essential ingredient to getting in is busting your ass!

The facts are that not all kids will make the cut.
"

It is true that not all kids will make the cut, but what is bugging Catherine (I think ... Catherine, correct me if I'm wrong here) is that this "cut" that not all kids will make would be the *remedial* track for Singapore and Russia (and, we here at KTM tend to believe, also in Japan and Europe in general).

One possibility is that these kids who *tested* (ie, were in the top X% of the school) into a program that would be remedial for Singapore/Russia/Europe are just not working hard enough. This *is* a possibility.

Another possibility is that they are being taught poorly. Given the sequencing of instruction, homework and tests (namely that new topics frequently are introduced in homework or on tests before being introduced in the instruction part of the class), there is some non-trivial possibility that the problem here is the instruction.


-Mark Roulo

KarenA said...

I was so bothered by Anonymous's comments; fortunately the other contributors have effectively articulated some key points.

In particular, what bothers me is this assumption that it must be the kids who are at fault.

It's hard to learn on your own something that hasn't been taught well (or at all), especially when it comes to math.

When our oldest was in 7th grade, she had a math teacher who saw her role as that of "facilitator." As a result, hubby borrowed a traditional textbook, and spent the year teaching math to our highly motivated, highly talented and very hardworking daughter. But she wasn't a math brain, and she needed a math teacher, not a math facilitator.

The sad (and I do mean sad) fact was that many of the students in this class finished the year thinking that they must be bad at math. The 8th grade math teacher that many of them had the following year was a saint, and she was able to rehabilitate a number of these kids.

Anonymous said...

In our school district most of the 8th graders take Algebra I. It's not even considered accelerated. The accelerated students take Algebra I in 7th grade.

lgm said...

There are several problems in the middle school muddle that contribute to student's difficulties.

One problem is simply the time allocated in school to math. KIPP, I believe, gives more than the 42 minutes/day for 5 days that our district does. My district's high school (north of you, in Orange County) is going to a plan similar to Arlington's (in Dutchess Cty)...double period math for reg. ed., with single period option for those who have an A in the prior course and scored a '4' on the state testing. Under the current time allocated, there is not enough time to explain concepts for anything and still cover the basics for the grade level...so it is all rote memorization. This is why a tutor is necessary and why the math teachers are available during lunch to answer questions. Personally, I'd like to see study hall or contact ( a class for those not in chorus or band in which children may not study, instead have to play board games or read) eliminated and that time given to the core classes.

Another problem is alignment of the class to the state math standards that were issued in 2005. Our Gr. 5 - 8 did not align and seem to have no plan to do so...major topics are omitted that are necessary for algebra success. I get the feeling that 8th grade algebra is considered elitist; probably rightly so as the kids in it are wealthy and tutored, with the exception of a few highly or profoundly gifted math brains.

On grading - perhaps she's warning students that the rubric means they have to actively participate in the class, rather than rely on the tutor?

>> It's hard to learn on your own something that hasn't been taught well (or at all), especially when it comes to math.

Aye. Although a lot of K-6 math can be figured out from real life experience, it does help to have the nomenclature before starting pre-algebra.

lgm said...

Oh, I see I need to edit:

>Personally, I'd like to see study hall or contact ( a class for those not in chorus or band in which children may not study, instead have to play board games or read) eliminated and that time given to the core classes.

Here I am meaning 'in the middle school'.

SteveH said...

"In our school district most of the 8th graders take Algebra I. It's not even considered accelerated."

This is the way it should (and could) be.

SteveH said...

"In particular, what bothers me is this assumption that it must be the kids who are at fault."

Wait long enough and all problems will be blamed on the kids.


Mark, (being very nice), concludes that:

"...there is some non-trivial possibility that the problem here is the instruction."

Some kids do well (in spite of everything), so schools assume that there are no fundamental or systemic problems. Teachers have told me this.

My son is starting sixth grade, but they are allowing him to go into 7th grade pre-algebra. This is a big change from their old attitude no flexibility. The problem is that this flexibility is offered to students who can do the work. They do not think that their math curriculum is poor and their expectations are very low. They don't think that algebra in 8th grade is normal. They are just being more flexible. This is good for my son (although the curriculum is not great), but it doesn't help all of those kids who could be doing so much better.

Barry Garelick said...

I had a counselor in high school who seemed to take delight in addressing the assembled masses in her study halls that many of the freshmen were going to be shocked out of our minds when we saw our grades first card marking, thus implying that many of us were bad students. I was shocked, it's true. I had 3 A's and a B. I quickly wrote her off for the charlatan that she was.

Telling students to "face facts" could be viewed by people such as "anonymous" as good tough love. Personally, I think it sucks. Why isn't the school trying to minimize the cut-point, instead of holding it over students' heads that some of them may not make the grade? Is she proud of that fact? Sounds like she is. Why not send a message that "you can do it" and prepare them accordingly? From what I've heard and read over the past two years about Ms K, it doesn't sound like she has supplied the preparation that she suddenly finds missing in her students.

SteveH said...

As an aside, I worked with my son all summer with a borrowed copy of Everyday Math (6th grade - new edition) because the school wanted to give him their end-of-sixth-year test to see if was prepared for 7th grade math. I had to use EM instead of the Singapore Math books sitting unopened near by.

EM is a sorry excuse for a math curriculum, and sixth grade is a culmination of everything that is wrong with it. The workbooks spend more time on "Math Boxes" flashbacks than on presenting and mastering new material. There is new material, but it's presented very poorly.

Open up EM at any location and the problems look fine, but just try to follow it day-by-day. On top of that, they introduce (as they always have), new material with little or no explanation. There is a reference book, but it's not aligned with the workbooks and is of very little help. (Note that there is nothing discovery-like or constructive about sixth-grade EM. That is a non-issue. It's all about developing skills, and EM does it very poorly.)

I focused on what I thought were the core skills: fractions, percents, decimals, word problems, sign rules, and an introduction to basic algebraic manipulation. The test he got, however, was very heavy on algebra and other topics he would be covering in pre-algebra. (Remember our past comments on how schools fail to cover about 40% of what is in the books.) This is the first year they are going to use EM in the sixth grade and I know that the teachers will have a difficult time of it.

I saw a lot over overlap between 6th grade EM and 7th grade pre-algebra. It occurred to me that there are great problems when you change from one curriculum to another. This seems to happen a lot between 5th and 7th grades. EM may have some advanced topics, but they are covered very poorly and there is a good chance that the teacher will never get to them.

I will say, however, that the 7th grade Glencoe Pre-Algebra book is quite a relief over EM. It's not perfect, but it's one, self-contained textbook (not too many pictures). New topics are presented in a careful progression and there are a lot of opportunities for practice.

Schools have lots of chances to get students up to speed, but they have to commit to the mastery of basic skills. They don't do that.

concernedCTparent said...

Glencoe is what my district dropped in favor of Everyday Math and Connected Math. Go figure.