In the article she profiles Eric Walstein, a revered high school math teacher who complains that many students coming into the accelerated math courses in high school do not have mastery of the basic skills. And these are the accelerated students!

Maryland has long had a "pretend" algebra exam, which produces results showing that many Montgomery County students are proficient in algebra in 8th grade. Yeah, if your exam concentrates on non-algebra type problems, you'll get all kinds of good results. Why not call it a calculus exam and really brag?

Fans of KTM may remember that Montgomery County piloted Singapore Math in 4 schools in 1999 - 2000 and then said if they wanted to continue with it, to pay for it on their own. Although the County's own study showed the pilot was successful, adopting it County-wide would have raised questions about what was going on before, plus it had the potential of not eliminating the achievement gap. Though the program would have floated and raised all boats, the achievement gap would have still existed. The usual course of action is to dumb things down and eliminate the achievement gap that way. If you can't raise the water, lower the bridge. Some schools in Montgomery County are using Everyday Math. I know Woodfield Elementary uses EM; they were one of the schools piloting Singapore Math.

The Post article talks about students who took

above-grade-level math and getting good grades, yet did not seem to have a firm grasp of the material. The curriculum is being "narrowed and shallowed," Walstein said. "The philosophy is that they squeeze you out the top like a tube of toothpaste. That's what Montgomery County math is."

This thesis has become Walstein's obsession: In its drive to be the best, please affluent parents and close the achievement gap on standardized tests, the county is accelerating too many students in math, at the expense of the curriculum -- and the students. The average accelerated math student "thinks he's fine. His parents think he's fine. The school system says he's fine. But he's not fine!" Walstein declares on one occasion. On another, Walstein is even less diplomatic. " 'We have the best courses and there's no achievement gap and everything is wonderful,' " he says, parroting the message he believes county administrators are trying to project.

"The problem is, they're lying!"

Another interesting quote from the article:

"You would have a hard time finding one math teacher in this county who supports the scope and sequence of the way math is taught,"says Billie Bradshaw, the math and science magnet program coordinator at Poolesville High School [in Montgomery County, Maryland].

## 54 comments:

"It's not surprising that those county administrators whom Walstein loves to mimic don't agree with him."

The administrators don't know how to calibrate their expectations. It's all relative, not absolute. As long as the results are improving, they don't care about anything else. State tests reflect relative expectations, not absolute expectations. It's all about low expectations. (for themselves!)

Eric Walstein knows absolute. He knows what the kids are capable of. The district doesn't like to hear that.

I ran into a friend of mine at the supermarket who got onto the topic of how schools want kids to read a lot (with little expectation of comprehension or writing), but allow the kids to read any kind of junk, as if reading anything is great. (She is an author of many books.) She doesn't know much about math and I asked her if she thought that math was somehow done better? It's the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect all over again.

She also doesn't say anything becuase she doesn't want the school to think of her as a pest. (An author as a pest when it comes to her expertise! Just like math.) There are a lot of hidden helicopters out there.

Schools and teachers make it quite clear (from Kindergarten) that all parents need to stay hidden.

The average accelerated math student "thinks he's fine. His parents think he's fine. The school system says he's fine. But he's not fine!"If he’s saying this about the “average accelerated math student”, imagine what he thinks about the average non-accelerated student.

I think around here most parents believe that if their child is “passing” the state standardized tests, then he’s fine. Certainly, the school system says he’s fine.

From my vantage point, demonstrating proficiency on the state tests is no guarantee that a student is doing fine.

Well, I guess it depends what you mean by “fine”. It doesn’t appear to mean that the student will be well prepared to handle college math without remediation. That’s not fine in my book. Not for my kid.

Though the program would have floated and raised all boats, the achievement gap would have still existed. The usual course of action is to dumb things down and eliminate the achievement gap that way.Is this true?

This is what I've been wondering....

I've mentioned the grade deflation we've seen for accelerated kids in various high performing schools in Westchester & in Connecticut. I think I've also mentioned the fact that the "4" on NY state tests has no range to speak of. If you miss more than a couple of questions, you score a 3.

At a minimum I think you'd have to say that our state tests have grade compression.

Do we have evidence that schools deliberately hold back their top kids -- or grade them down -- in order to reduce the gap?

This guy is amazing.

He's perfectly captured the attitude of administrators in high-performing districts:

'We have the best courses and there's no achievement gap and everything is wonderful,' " he says, parroting the message he believes county administrators are trying to project.When I spoke to the Director of COOG, he told me all wealthy school districts operate this way.

He put it too crudely for me to post here, actually.

Walstein isn't just any math teacher -- he's arguably the most highly regarded high school math teacher in the county.right

this is EXACTLY the guy a typical school district is not going to listen to

anyone with real expertise in a field is unwelcome

I've seen that over and over again

He's also a three-time winner of a national award for distinguished high school mathematics teaching, and his former students include some of the more highly regarded mathematicians of their generation, such as MIT's Jacob Lurie and Jordan Ellenberg of the University of Wisconsin.what an eccentric!

Walstein is known for highly structured classes, in which he carefully plots out each day's lesson, culminating with a weekly exam. He methodically sets aside his Saturdays to grade tests and carefully assess where each student stands.wow

colleagues note his sometimes confrontational demeanor in meetings with administratorscheck

Bunday remembers a meeting in the spring about procedural changes in the magnet program, during which Walstein stood up before a teachers' union representative backing the county positionI'd like the details on this one

The problem with calculators, he explains, is that the kids can get the answers without learning the underlying principle, and how and why it works.uh.....so would that be ROTE LEARNING we're talking about?

Everybody looks at me, and they say, 'Walstein, how come you're not using technology?'A friend of mine says she knows a teacher in a local district who got in trouble for not using her SMART Board.

And that's why the kid last week said to me: 'Why do I want to factor? What's the purpose? Who cares if I factor?' This was a kid coming into the magnet." (When factored, the quadratic equation above looks like this: y=(x+2)(x+2))wow

this is pretty amazing

they've got fake acceleration

what I've seen, heretofore, is schools doing away with acceleration altogether in the name of homogeneous grouping and discovery learning

they flipped it

semi-homogeneous grouping with fake acceleration

In addition, Walstein says, some children are not cognitively ready for algebra as early as the county wants to give it to them.I REALLY wish he hadn't ventured into cog sci territory

Of course, this is the only one of his arguments administrators are likely to buy.

One result of the county's new curricular strategy is that while classroom math teachers are still involved in shaping the curriculum, experts in math education theory now play a much larger role.say no more

I wish the author had named the curriculum.

Parents need to see the words "Everyday Math" in print, in this piece.

An author as a pest when it comes to her expertise! Just like math.absolutely

I've seen this again and again

Very often when a parent has an area of academic, athletic, architectural/contracting, or IT expertise, you'll find that parent unhappy with the way things are being done.

Do we have evidence that schools deliberately hold back their top kids -- or grade them down -- in order to reduce the gap?That wasn't my conjecture, though it may be a possibility. What I was saying was rather than use a challenging program like Singapore which will likely raise understanding and test scores, but not equally, they'd use Everyday Math. As SteveH says, implementation of the program is based on low expectations. The tests match the curriculum and the gap narrows. Of course, the irony is that if they stuck with Singapore and used the same dumbed down tests, the gap would still narrow. If they used real tests, like ITBS, the gap would show up. But I'd wager the scores would be higher at both ends of the gap than they would be with the typical programs.

Then of course you have the ones who can afford it getting tutoring and after school help like Sylvan, Kumon, etc. So the gap doesn't go away; they've just camouflaged it.

I don't know that they are downgrading students in the accelerated program. Walstein sounds like he's not seeing well-prepared students. I don't know his grading policies. He may be an ogre for all I know, but I tend to like what he said in the article.

OK, now you got me curious so I looked up what I wrote in the other article I wrote on Singapore Math (the one in Third Education Review).

At the end it says:

In Hoven’s view, [that's John Hoven, who got the MCPS to agree to pilot Singapore] the NCTM standards play to the ideals of the educational bureaucracy which has historically been moved by compassion for low achievers. Thus some programs including but certainly not limited to Everyday Math narrow the achievement gap at the expense of reduced learning and mastery. Programs that emphasize mastery, like Singapore Math, may raise performance overall, but the gap may widen. Therefore, Singapore is a threat to the goal of social equity because of the perception that the slower learners may not catch on. The result is that school then becomes a place that emphasizes engaging activities that don't require prior skills or knowledge, rather than what the Singapore program does: building skills and knowledge grade by grade.I.e., MCPS settled for low expectations. And they got what they expected.

Our town is one where "each child is challenged to fulfill his/her unique potential."

Of course, this has to be done in a low expectation, full-inclusion environment that doesn't believe in direct teaching of content and skills. Challenging is easy. Teaching to a challenging level is another thing. It's not done. Talk is cheap.

Walstein nailed it when he said, "The problem is, they're lying."

We need more Walsteins in Loudoun County. I keep searching for them, but have yet to find one teacher with his honesty. Most teachers here tow the everything is fine line.

CONNECTED MATH must have been the Middle School curriculum. Why didn't they mention the name of the curriculum at fault?

I don't believe Connected Math is used in Montgomery County. I think it's Glencoe's "Pre-Algebra" which in itself isn't too bad. But MCPS has a strong constructivist bent.

Our town used to use CMP until enough parents complained that their kids were not ready for math in high school. There was a clear curriculum gap between CMP and high school algebra (especially geometry) that they couldn't talk their way around it. Our 8th grade now uses the same algebra book (Glencoe) as the high school. Like duh? How difficult is continuity of curriculum?

Of course, the problem is now between EM in 6th grade and the Glencoe Pre-Algebra in 7th grade. Some kids will do fine, so the school can blame any problems on the kids.

It's quite interesting to see. The generalist K-6 teachers love the fuzzy learning, but the 7th and 8th grade teachers (who need a certification in their teaching area) lean towards traditional textbooks. The difference between 6th grade EM and 7th grade Gencoe Pre-Algebra is night and day. It's almost as if the school completely changes it's mind when 7th grade rolls around. There is no escape. They have to start teaching knowledge and skills to prepare the kids for high school. Sink or swim takes over. They've waited long enough so that they can blame the kids and the kids will believe it.

Programs that emphasize mastery, like Singapore Math, may raise performance overall, but the gap may widen. Therefore, Singapore is a threat to the goal of social equity because of the perception that the slower learners may not catch on.wow

interesting

Challenging is easy. Teaching to a challenging level is another thing.Exactly.

Teaching to a challenging level is HARD.

In terms of my own work, if I wrote "challenging books" I wouldn't have a job.

People hire writers to write accessible books about challenging subjects.

That's what we need in curricula and teaching.

The W. Post article begs a question: how are the students in the non-accelerated programs doing?

If they are doing better than the accelerated students, then the fault lies in how the accelerated programs are implemented.

If both are suffering, then you have to look at the curricula.

As for Singapore Math, it represents a challenging level. It doesn't allow you to simply say "Oh, they don't get it but that's OK, there's always next year." EM does.

This summer, my boys and are on a death march through Dolciani's Pre-Algebra. We talk about one or two sections each day, the boys do all the odd problems, and take the chapter test before going on to the next chapter.

We're doing this in order for the boys to qualify to skip Connected Math 2 in 7th grade and go directly into Connected Math 3. Connected Math 3 is our "algebra" because it introduces most of the concepts found in a traditional Algebra 1 course, but with calculators, and without the practice. So I fear it is "algeba appreciation" instead of Algebra 1.

If the boys succeed in Connected Math 3, they will take Geometry in 8th grade, Algebra 2 in 9th grade, and a pre-calculus class in 10th grade.

All to take Calculus AB in 11th grade, and Calculus BC in 12th grade, so they can really and truly test out of the whole first year of engineering Calculus in college. Other children accelerate so they can take Statistics in 12th grade.

Comments on the wisdom of this course of action are welcome.

The boys are not as cognitively ready as I would like them to be, but Dolciani's Pre-Algebra sequence is the only path I see to skip Connected Math 2 and get them ready for Algebra 1 without gaps in conceptual understanding or skills.

Using the Connected Math 2 texts would be impossible.

I will say that Connected Math 1 in 6th grade was an improvement over Investigations in 5th grade, yet clarity and closure still had to come from the 6th grade teacher rather than the text.

I'm hoping the 8th grade teacher supplements Connected Math 3 in order to move the children in her care from appreciation to mastery. But that may not happen when the goal of programs like Connected Math is to reduce the

appearance of anachievement gap.BeckyC

After I left a comment on the article, I realized that they've probably done the same thing in the middle school there that we did here: cram all of the acceleration into the middle school years.

Our kids are no longer allowed to accelerate in K-5, so they go into 6th grade way behind where they need to be to take algebra in 8th grade, but then they take it anyway.

death march to algebra

This summer, my boys and are on a death march through Dolciani's Pre-Algebra.That book always looked great --- what do you think of it?

All to take Calculus AB in 11th grade, and Calculus BC in 12th grade, so they can really and truly test out of the whole first year of engineering Calculus in college. Other children accelerate so they can take Statistics in 12th grade.wow!

(unfortunately, that's the only comment I'm qualified to offer)

when the goal of programs like Connected Math is to reduce the appearance of an achievement gapI must say..... having spent quite a bit of time this summer mulling over the apparent reality that capitalism hasn't been about

capitalfor a century now, but about intellectual capital....I'm thinking: gee. The constructivists and anti-gifted types may be on to something.If you can't increase the intellectual capital of the less talented (and thus far the bulk of schools have not been able to do so), then the only option is to reduce the intellectual capital of the more talented.

"All to take Calculus AB in 11th grade, and Calculus BC in 12th grade, so they can really and truly test out of the whole first year of engineering Calculus in college."

My son is a year ahead now (Pre-Algebra in 6th grade. We did this because he was ready for it and we couldn't stand the idea that he would have another year of Everyday Math. It's kind of like skipping over as much of Connected Math as possible.

However, our goal wasn't to get him ahead of the game. I don't see any advantage to testing out of college courses except for saving money, but I don't think that's how it works. You still probably have to take the same number of credits. There is plenty of time and credits in college to do all that you want. There is also graduate school.

I think all of the justification you need is that your approach eliminates a huge problem they must have with kids going from Connected Math into Algebra 2, whether they are ahead a year or not. By the way, if your high school offers Calculus BC in 12th grade, then how do they expect kids to get there? I think our high school just offers one generic AP Calculus class.

BeckyC -- I don't think it is a good idea to place out of college calculus. My qualifications for writing this are that I have a PhD in mathematics,taught some calculus in graduate school, and have worked in engineering.

First, high school calculus is not the same as college calculus, so by placing out of college calc they will miss something. The good news is that at most colleges there are two or more calculus sequences. There is standard calculus for everybody, there is often an engineering-oriented calculus sequence, and there is an honors calculus sequence. That last one is the one to aim for. A good background in high school calculus and then college honors calculus is the best approach. That way they will get more breadth and depth than if they place out directly into differential equations or whatever is the 3rd semester course where your kids end up in college. Also, rather than taking two years of high school calculus, is there any option for more geometry, algebra, finite math, or calculus-based physics and so on that will help them develop problem-solving skills?

I don't have any experience with the curricula you mentioned, Connected Math and so on, but I would recommend the Singapore word problem books. You might look up or down a grade level to find the right stuff for your kids.

Having worked with students who took Connected Math 3 in 8th grade, I am surprised that your district counts this as an Algebra I class. Since you are using Dolciani's Pre Algebra book, see if you can get a copy of her Algebra I book Structure and Methond (McDougal Littel). Then look at the CMP topics and the depth at which they are not covered. The comparison is staggering.

JE

I think it's great if students are ready to take calculus in high school. I teach both the AB and BC AP calc courses. For the AB course, the students have an entire year to learn material covered in the one semester college course. Many parents and students report that is the main reason they want the course in high school becaue they've had older children struggle in the semester course in college. They don't want their child to have to transition to calculus while at the same time transitioning in college life, a new environment, etc. I think that's a good plan. I hope that my own child is able to take advantage of these courses while still in high school.

Catherine, I like the Dolciani book very much. I think it leaves no stone unturned. But we have to skip the geometry (except for similar triangles?) so guess what we'll be studying next summer.

SteveH, Yes, we're trying to avoid hitting the wall in Algebra 2.

Anon, I see your point. I took Algebra 1 in 9th grade etc and aced engineering Calculus as a freshman in college, and I was glad I was "late." However, my husband took Algebra 1 in 8th grade etc and aced his Calculus course in 12th grade, and he believes it was a great advantage to him to go right into Differential Equations etc.

Fortunately for him, his Calculus teacher made sure that the high school students learned everything they needed to know to test out of the entire year of engineering Calculus at his hometown University.

I do like the idea of Discrete Math, more so than Statistics. Of course, I would like the boys to participate in that decision then.

The boys have completed Singapore 5 and a few topics from Singapore 6. We have always done the Intensive Practices but not Challenging Word Problems. But somewhere along the line in Singapore 6, the bar models required to solve word problems outlived their usefulness to my thinking. They became more trouble than they are worth -- complex structures that compete with, rather than correspond to, the tools of algebra.

BeckyC

I think BeckyC is having the same problem that many of us have; how to help our kids make the transition from the fuzzy world of K-6 or K-8 math to the more rigorous AP track in high school. My goal isn't so much speed as it is quality. I expect to run into issues in high school too, but it's got to be better than K-6 math. I hope.

Assuming that you have reasonable textbooks for geometry, algebra 2, etc. (not Core-Plus), can anyone comment on the problems you can have in the high school AP Calculus track?

Concerned, thanks for your input. Do you have students take AB and BC? Or dive right into BC?

My experience was to take Calculus all of one piece in college; my husband's experience was to take Calculus all of one piece in high school; neither of us has experience with splitting Calculus between high school and college. Perhaps I worry too much.

And, as always, the boys will have a say in this. They were the ones who convinced me to let them skip a year in math, with their teacher's permission.

BeckyC

"..he believes it was a great advantage to him to go right into Differential Equations etc."

I had an 'A' in calculus in high school (pre AP days), and had no choice but to take calculus again in college. No math class after that was difficult for me. I don't think differential equations would have been good for me at that time. The math would have been far ahead of the engineering. I guess it depends on the individual and where you are going.

"They became more trouble than they are worth -- complex structures that compete with, rather than correspond to, the tools of algebra."

Exactly!

I like linear algebra, but all I really want are good courses taught by good teachers.

"neither of us has experience with splitting Calculus between high school and college"

I guess you could say that I had that split. The high school covered most all of the material, but I was happy to redo it in college. This didn't bother me much because I had no idea how difficult/easy college would be. Easy and comfortable is good for a start, especially when you can really master the material. I never felt this was an issue later in my college career. There usually is plenty of extra credits if you want to take that course in orbital mechanics.

short answer: don't skip out of college engineering calc. do not. do not. do not.

I took ap calc my junior year of hs, when I was 14-15. The course was structured to be the AB test. I took the BC and got a 5. I then went to UC San Diego for math classes as a senior, when i was 15-16. I aced the 3rd quarter of standard multivariate calc. next quarter, I aced (on paper) linear algebra. Next quarter, I aced differential equations. in truth, I didn't understand anything in the lin alg class to mastery. I specficially remember not being able to grok the Span of a set of vectors even though I got the highest score on the class final. diffeq was more lack of mastery.

I then went to MIT for college. they allowed me out of all calculus and diff eq, though not linalg. It was a terrible mistake for me, a physics major. Turned out I had never learned multivariate calc to mastery, but I didn't know that until 2nd semester my sophomore year, during quantum mechanics. i barely passed my mit linalg course because I thought I knew it, and didn't study it (nor did I know how to study it.) I didn't understand the material in linalg until grad quantum mechanics and my group theory class my sr year.

if i'd taken calc at mit, i'd have been introduced again to all of the div/grad/curl I didn't understand, but more, i'd have been introduced to the ideas of functions as linear operators, to how linalg and diffeq were the same thing, how proofs get written. i'd have had the opportunity to learn all of those courses to mastery. and my physics classes would have been comprehendable a lot more easily. blowing t hat foundation blew my ability to understand physics, my major.

take the advanced math series in college, the honors calc sequence. learn and relearn every chance you get. relearn the fundamentals, and you will understand far motre sophisticated ideas far more rapidly than if you just plow into those difficult ideas ib the first place, with basic scaffolding underneath.

Speaking of high school tracks, anyone have any advice on what happens if a kid completely misses the geometry class along the way? My son had a fine, traditional Alg I class prior to 9th grade, then went right into Alg II (another fine class) as a 9th grader. Grade 10 he'll take Pre-calc then Calc AB in 11 and Calc BC or Statistics in grade 12 (similar to Becky's sons). I was planning on having him do a little Geometry via ALEKS this summer, but alas, it didn't happen. Will he be okay with whatever geometry he picks up in other math classes? Will colleges notice or care? He can do most of the geometry on the ACT. The geometry class at his school is fuzzy and not worth the time.

"Concerned, thanks for your input. Do you have students take AB and BC? Or dive right into BC?"

Students have done both. We haven't had that many juniors reach calculus junior year, but those who have taken AB before BC have performed much better on the exam. The BC class covers the AB material at a much faster pace first semester, so a student can go right into that class if they are ready. Students who receive acceptable scores on the AB exam would take traditional Calc II on entering college, while the BC students would enroll in the traditional Calc III in college. (or that is the way it is in my area) Differential equations are introduced in AB as well as BC, but that independent course follows Calc III in our local colleges. Hope this helps :D

I have 2 children who attended one of the top Montgomery County, MD high schools. Calculus AB was not offered at all. The usual breakdown of AP scores was a pretty even split between 3/4/5. None of my 4 children were going into engineering/math/physics but they needed a year of calculus for distribution requirements, so passing out of that was a significant advantage.

BeckyC

Another option is to take the Calc courses during college summer sessions; one after junior year and one after senior year. This gets a competent instructor who has help session hours and can advise. The high school slots can be used for other courses that will enhance the problem solving abilities, or allow the student to test out of college english, intro psych etc.

I took calculus in high school from an excellent instructor, and the 1 or 2 times I needed help, my dad, a junior high math teacher, could help me.

My "college" was the Air Force Academy, we took our placement tests in the middle of our basic training. I fell asleep halfway through my Calculus test, requiring me to take calculus again.

It was a good thing! My first semester, I didn't learn anything new, but it was a good review and I really needed the extra time gained by having a class where I did basically nothing to get an A.

My 2nd semester, I had an instructor who taught the theory behind calc but never worked an example problem or went over a homework problem. I really enjoyed it! The rest of the class suffered, "self-study" calc. was only possible for 1 or 2 of the smarter students in the class.

I heard many complaints about Differential Equations and was leery of taking it, but when I finally took it, I thought it was really easy. I think having 2 years of Calculus helped.

A good instructor can make a big difference, as shown by how my 2nd semester class fared. Also, I had a poor teacher for Calc 3 and got a B. I had a good teacher for Differential Equations and got an A.

Thanks everybody for giving me your insights on the experience of splitting Calculus between high school and college.

I see the wisdom of the boys taking time in high school to test out of freshman English via AP, rather than wrapping up freshman Calculus.

I'm not happy about "algebra" in 7th grade, but accelerating the boys now, without gaps, will keep doors open for them in future.

VickyS, that's a great question about Geometry that I'm not qualified to answer until I've walked my own boys down this path (up this path?) to the end and have perspective. In fact, I have no Geometry textbook in the house.

The short answer may be that Geometry is the spatial playground of mathematics, and we ultimately use Calculus to describe objects in this playground in the service of Science. Others could speak to the great value in learning to construct proper mathematical proofs by first using objects in this playground.

BeckyC

>>Speaking of high school tracks, anyone have any advice on what happens if a kid completely misses the geometry class along the way?

The effect would depend on his intended major and his logic and visualization skills. If he's going into science or engineering, geometry would be valuable. Does the school offer proof based geo as a small, unadvertised section?

The US is near the bottom of the global heap of mathematicians, scientists, engineers and technicians. We just don't produce enough of them. Our national math scores are awful.

Go talk to ALL of the kids in these accelerated courses. You'll find a few going into technical and scientific fields. The rest of them are running - as fast as they can - away from anything technically challenging. They managed to get the AP work done, but we killed their interest.

What a waste of time and money. These programs are in place to meet the needs of school districts and to stroke parental egos (in many cases but not all).

Just talked to a new Math teacher. He majored in Math in college and got a teaching certificate. Guess what: he was kicked OUT of the accelerated program when he was in 7th grade. Probably the best thing that could have happened to him!

Go talk to ALL of the kids in these accelerated courses. You'll find a few going into technical and scientific fields. The rest of them are running - as fast as they can - away from anything technically challenging. They managed to get the AP work done, but we killed their interest.I haven't talked to ALL kids in accelerated courses per your recommendation but I have talked to a few and even observed the classes, at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church VA, where Vern Williams teaches. He was one of the panelist on the National Math Advisory Panel.

Vern challenges his students, to be sure, but any problem he gives is one for which they have the prior knowledge to solve it. He uses the Dolciani algebra text and teaches algebra to 8th graders. He talks about off-topic things like infinite sequences and what 0.999... really means (does it equal 1?). But he also makes sure they can do the basics of algebra, just like the teacher at Blair High School in the article.

Sure there are some students who probably don't like him. Vern tells me there are parents who push their kids into accelerated classes, and sometimes he hs to tell them the students are not ready for such class. He gets calls from parents on what they should be doing to get their kids into Thomas Jefferson High School (Northern Virginia's equivalent of Blair High School). He tells them not to push.

I've talked to a few of his students, now adults, who somehow didn't run aaway as you portray the situation, but ended up majoring in math. They attribute their interest to him. They also say that of all the classes in math, even in college, they've never had as interesting a class as his. One student was a classmate of mine in an ed school course at George Mason where I am working to get my teaching certificate to teach math. He majored in math at Cornell. He is now teaching math at Thomas Jefferson. He said when he had Vern Williams' algebra class in 8th grade, he knew he would be a math teacher.

Funny that Vern decided the same thing when he was taking math in 7th and 8th grades.

Vern always tells me (and the press) that gifted students need to be taught--just as much as those not in gifted classes. The general feeling is that such students can just learn it on their own. They do pick up things faster than other students but they still need instruction. And he gives it to them. Exercises from Dolciani, and makes sure they can factor, etc.

I don't choose to teach gifted students. I feel that non-gifted students need plenty of teaching also. (The trend in schools with limited number of accelerated classes--i.e., not GT centers) is to group everyone in the same class regardless of ability and have the brighter kids teach the slower ones. This is one time when the word ALL might be appropriate: this practice is unfair to ALL.

Yes, there are schools/teachers who have killed students interest. But I don't think that's always the case. And as with most things, the situation is always more complex than what you can put down in a comment on a blog.

"They managed to get the AP work done, but we killed their interest."

Lower expectations are better than higher expectations? Only in K-12 educator thought-space. It couldn't be that schools screw up math education starting from Kindergarten.

But what about all of the kids who don't have parents with egos to be stroked? Lots of kids take AP calculus and are perfectly happy and properly challenged.

Are you saying that AP courses must be eliminated?

"What a waste of time and money."

Yep. That's what you are saying ... and that parents are stupid.

This is another great justification for full school choice. The last thing I want are K-12 educators informing me about what constitutes a proper education.

Montgomery County is now soliciting feedback from parents about K-12 math education. Comments are due Friday, Oct. 23, 2009 and should be sent to math@mcpsmd.org.

The specific questions they want answered are the following:

* What aspects of the MCPS mathematics program do you consider to be strengths and do you believe should continue?

* What aspects of the MCPS mathematics program would you like to see changed, improved, and/or enhanced?

* Do you feel that your child is prepared with the mathematical knowledge he or she needs for his/her next steps? Next course? Why or why not? Explain.

* What experiences has your child had, or what experiences do you wish your child had, that have made or would make your child stronger in mathematics?

* What suggestions do you have to offer for the improvement of the MCPS mathematics teaching and learning program?

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