kitchen table math, the sequel: Extracurricular gifted programs threatened as well!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Extracurricular gifted programs threatened as well!

I've just learned that the principal has faulted our Continental Math League for "widening the achievement gap."

It's been suggested that, instead of running a math club for gifted students, I instead run one for struggling students.

Maybe I'm being unreasonable, but I tend to think that it's the school's job, not mine, to educate struggling students.

A first step for the school would be to follow in the footsteps of the following school districts and drop the Investigations math curriculum: Framingham (Massachusetts), Inner Grove, Little Falls, Staples-Motley, Stillwater, & Waconia (Minnesota), Columbia (Missouri), Fairport, Greece, Penfield, Pittsford, & Syracuse (New York), Lebanon, Painesville, Three Rivers, & Wickliffe (Ohio), Gervais, Sutherline, & Chariot (Oregon), Arlington, Bellevue, Clover Park, Eastmont, Lake Stevens, Oak Harbor, & Richland (Washington), Black River Falls, La Crosse, River Falls, & Superior (Wisconsin).

If the Powers that Be have the guts to do this, I will be so grateful that I may, indeed, be willing to sacrifice additional time in the name of math education.

The more likely resolution, I'm afraid, will be that--for all our enthusiastic support among math-starved math buffs and their parents--said Powers will not grant us permission to resume our Continental Math League next year.


Jean said...

That's appalling. Perhaps you could continue the club outside of school? Go underground!

Perhaps the principal would like to level the playing field a bit further. All the brighter kids could wear headsets that emit a loud noise every few minutes to prevent them from concentrating or thinking too deeply. (cf. Harrison Bergeron)

VickyS said...

Wow that is the most depressing thing I've read all day (and there are lots of depressing things to read these days). It's not even a cost issue? Wow. It's more than depressing, it's scary. Why must this be presented as an either/or? The poor students should have extra help. The gifted students should have the math league. These are not mutually exclusive.

Once again I recommend my favorite book, by Cheri Pearson Yecke, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools .

Barry Garelick said...

And what kind of help does he suggest giving the struggling students? Investigations in Number, Data and Space? Or Everyday Math perhaps? Maybe not in your school but in others I've seen, yes. The attitude is: gifted kids will get it by themselves--they don't need any help.

vlorbik said...

"go underground" is the real.
the schools are doomed anyway
so let them lose their souls.
anybody trying to tell free americans
not to talk about mathematics
has deeply misunderstood not only school
but america and mathematics in the bargain.
they think they're the legitimate rulers
of the whole kaboodle... and if they suck you in
and you devote a significant effort to resisting:
they win. you're doing politics instead of math.
dodge the steamroller.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

I second the motion of doing it on your own, outside the school's purview. Sounds like that principal has truly risen to his level of incompetence. Astounding.

CassyT said...


This year, because we were at a new school, I offered to help with the Math Olympiad team. The team is open to all. I have one fourth grader who doesn't know her multiplication tables. She finally got her first problem correct on a test, the 5th and final test. That's 1/25 for the year.

Next year I'd like to go back to coaching a National Math Bee team. Focus is on getting basic math facts mastered. It's not as much fun as problem solving, but it serves a valid need.

Steph D. said...

Two public school teachers sitting here reading this with mouths agape. We both had the same response - we have seen too many times that when you offer a "math club" or any other outside help for struggling students, they do not show up. That's why they are doing poorly in math, 9 times out of 10 - they don't care. Keep widening the gap!

Catherine Johnson said...

I really am astonished by this -- and I'm speaking as a person who had her afterschool "Singapore Math" course shut down because it "competed with" and "undermined" Math Trailblazers.

Did he really say you're widening the achievement gap??????

Catherine Johnson said...

This is appalling.

Catherine Johnson said...

I second Vicky: Yecke's book is essential.

Catherine Johnson said...

If you don't mind, I'm going to add "achievement gap" & "greatest hits" as tags for this one.

lefty said...

No problem--indeed, I'm flattered. I'll even do it myself!

Yes, she really did say this, multiple times--it seems to be a theme of hers lately.

I'll have to read Yecke's book. (Is she a Creationist? Wikipedia implies so)

Engineer-Poet said...

This calls for more than a protest at a school board meeting.  This calls for torches and pitchforks outside the principal's home, and the same outside the homes of the school board if they fail to slap said principal down HARD.

Tracy W said...

Steph D - are those struggling students doing badly because they don't care, or do they don't care because they are doing badly?

I was born with dyspraxia. At school I avoided team sports as much as possible because I did badly in them and let the team down. It is good for students to learn to tolerate some failure, but when a student experiences too much failure they are very likely to give up.

lgm said...

>>That's why they are doing poorly in math, 9 times out of 10 - they don't care.

My experience as a tutor is that the students do care, but need to save face when the assumed knowledge bank isn't there and when the teaching is ineffective and/or the auditory processing/vision/hearing needs aren't met.

My district was a 'blame the students' district until state testing blew the cover off the 'curriculum misalignment' and 'students don't care' excuses for poor acheivement test scores. The practice was to place low acheivers in with tutored high achievers and point to the high achievers as proof that the teaching was effective. When the tests were published and compared to the state objectives and to the teachers' choice of curriculum coverage, it was blantantly obvious that the district had chosen not to teach key concepts in each grade level. Nothing like the bigotry of low expectations.

SteveH said...

"we have seen too many times that when you offer a 'math club' or any other outside help for struggling students, they do not show up. That's why they are doing poorly in math, 9 times out of 10 - they don't care. Keep widening the gap!"

I read this to mean that the math league should be kept for the best students because a math club for the poor math students won't draw any takers.

I'm not sure what is meant by: "Keep widening the gap."

But once again, it makes me think that teachers see the problems of education only as what walks into their classrooms. If you wait long enough, you can blame everything on the students. However, schools don't miss a chance to take credit for good student performance. Good performance is due to good teaching and bad performance is blamed on the kids and parents and society and poverty and video games and class size and money and so forth.

Heads I win, tails you lose.

If you read KTM for any length of time, you'll see that many of those best students have helicopter parents.

Igm is right. You have to look at how the students got there. It's more clear in math, because everything is cumulative. In history, you might get by with a weak understanding of one period or another, but in math, if the school doesn't ensure mastery of fractions, then the student is doomed. Students are tested and tracked by seventh grade into the track to real math (algebra in 8th grade), or the (Groundhog Day) track of perpetual algebra.

Our high school got great recognition for offering a 9th grade algebra class with a lab for students whose skills are lacking. It would be better if the lower schools got it right in the first place, but at least they didn't just offer an after-school math club and then blame the students when they didn't show up. That's a horrible attitude.

Instead of blaming the kids, try to understand exactly what the problem is. What specific basic skills are missing and causing problems. Give a test to the students at the beginning of the year. Look at the math curriculum being used in K-8. Find out why so many kids haven't mastered the basics. Don't just look at their attitudes and assume that's it.

Yell and scream (to the school) if kids are being sent to your class who are not prepared to tackle the material. Don't just complain about what you have to do to get them ready for trivial state tests. Tests are not the problem here.

LynnG said...

what state is lefty in?
The state tests in CT categorize kids into 5 bands -- below basic, basic, proficient, goal, and advanced.

The thing about that advanced band is that it doesn't matter how far past advanced you are. Once you cross the line into advanced, you might be 1 month ahead of grade level or 3 years ahead, it all counts as "advanced."

What that means is that if you are taking kids in the advanced range and just moving them further along, that won't show up on state reports.

The only way your club could increase the gap is if you moved kids from goal to advanced. Can you point out that the advanced kids are going to score in the same band regardless of your club, so they really shouldn't be changing the gap at all?

Or does your state report scores differently?

lefty said...

I'm in PA, which uses a 1-4 scale. But the principal's remarks aren't based on any actual effects we've had on state test scores, because the team has been around only since Oct., and no test scores have come in since then. Her sense of a "widening achievement gap" seems to be more a vague impression she has of the probable effects of the math team.

To clarify, the math team consists of about 20 2nd and 3rd graders, selected out of 40 who applied (out of a school total of 120 2nd and 3rd graders), based on their scores on our own math assessment (which consisted largely of problems from 2nd and 3rd grade Singapore Math, plus some Continental Math League problems).

Presumably the school math specialist with disagree with the principal on whether we're widening the achievement gap: the math specialist doesn't approve of the curriculum that the math team uses (which includes Singapore Math) and would argue that, in teaching the standard algorithms, we're interfering with students' "higher level" mathematical thinking and confusing them. If she's right, then we're not widening the achievement gap, but narrowing it.

Catherine Johnson said...

she said it multiple times????

I'm with engineer-poet

The school board and superintendent need to reprimand this principal

this is scandalous at every level

e.g.: does this mean that her approach to closing the gap is to ignore the kids on the bottom and suppress the kids on the top?

Is reducing the achievement of high-achieving kids an acceptable goal of public education in this administrator's view?