kitchen table math, the sequel: The market steps in

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The market steps in

As the parent of children in the public school system, I receive many solicitations for tutoring services. This pitch for a summer school session, in particular, caught my eye.

Math Facts Boot Camp
Algebra I
Algebra II
With the new emphasis on “real world” or “integrated” math, many educators agree that the skills that go into solving math problems, pure and simple, are being lost. Chyten’s math Facts Boot Camps are comprehensive and intensive courses in which the ability to solve equations is brought back to its rightful position, front and center in a student’s math mind.
Five 2-hour session

Although many of our government schools seem to be more focused on making sure students are “engaged” and “love learning” rather than on actually teaching vital skills and concepts, at least it’s reassuring to know that the private market has stepped in to help. Well, it can help those families that can afford to pay $550 [edited to correct price] for this “boot camp” class.

I notice that these boot camps are targeted to middle- and high-school students. For many, this is when the sh*t hits the fan, and parents may be ready to part with their hard earned money as they come to realize what vital skills their children have not yet learned (were not taught, perhaps?) in school.


Cranberry said...

You got the same brochure! I'm certain we're not in the same state. I've noticed an increase in tutoring services--they're springing up in the mini-malls all around town.

Did you notice the AP preparation, though? I don't know if that's for kids who want to take the course in the summer, before they take it in high school, to get a better grade on their transcript. We were stunned by the 18 hours of preparation for the SSAT, which my eldest took after looking at some review books. She did very well without any review classes. I wonder how many parents require their children to take unnecessary review classes? There's a lot of money in catering to parents' insecurities.

SteveH said...

"...many educators agree ..."

Many? Surely not enough.

" in which the ability to solve equations is brought back to its rightful position, front and center in a student’s math mind."

I like that; "rightful position". First. Bottom up.

I've been going over multiplying polynomials and factoring with my son lately. I suppose I could come up with a few real world problems to justify these skills, but the goal is mastery of the skill. Do you know what's coming up soon in his textbook? Dividing polynomials using the long division algorithm. Imagine.

Anonymous said...

There is a discussion going on at regarding Brown vs. Board of Education’s 55th Anniversary. How far have we really come in providing access and quality in education for every child?

Tex said...

Cranberry, I’m in a NYC suburb, fertile ground for tutoring services of all kinds.

In elementary school, my guesstimate is that one-third to one-half of all kids receive tutoring of some kind. In high school, many of my son’s classmates pay for some type of SAT prep tutoring. Actually, my son had a job for a while tutoring one of his classmates in math and other subjects. Her father used to go on about how much money he was saving by employing my son instead of professional tutors that typically charge $80-$150 per hour.

Tex said...

Yeah, Steve, I noticed the claim “many educators agree” that students are not learning fundamental math skills. Where are all these many educators?

Independent George said...

Where are all these many educators?Teaching in secret, and not rocking the boat lest they be punished for doing their jobs.

Cranberry said...

I'm in a Boston suburb, also fertile--and affluent--ground for education paranoia. Except it isn't paranoia, is it? It took me some time to realize how many of my children's classmates are being tutored. It wouldn't matter, except as my children progress through middle school, I'm realizing how many placement decisions rest upon a child's "performance" in late elementary and early middle school.

If your child can't pass the 6th grade placement tests for honors math, for example, a door shuts. If you take seriously the middle school talk about encouraging responsibility in your middle schooler re: homework, etc., another door may shut. The kids whose parents do their homework will have better rates of "homework completion." As my eldest proceeds through the middle school, if I had it to do over again, I'd be much less compliant with the school's official expectations. I'm seeing kids shut out of programs they should be in. I see expectations for children set at such a level that smart middle schoolers need tutors to "make it" through middle school. Boys are particularly hard hit by the expectations for homework.

Students need to do their own homework, and pass it in. I do think that the children whose parents monitor their homework, and those children who receive tutoring, are less likely to be washed out by the placement criteria for high school. I don't think that these tutoring services would be successful if there weren't any need for their (expensive) services.

SteveH said...

"Except it isn't paranoia, is it?"

My wife and I make sure our seventh grade son meets every school expectation on a daily basis. Actually, you might say that my wife IS paranoid about what information and grades end up in his file. Her refrain is that you never know how they will use the information.

KTMer's already know what happens when you fall off the top math track. What I don't know about are all of the other key placement decisions. Does anyone have any advice about things (decisions) to watch out for as a student enters high school? For example, what information, formal or informal, gets sent to the high school, and who gets to see this information?

What is a typical process for entering high school? I know that at our school, the 8th graders and their parents go to an open house at the high school. But how do the class placement and selection typically happen? Do people from the guidance department do this job ... based on what information? Will they tell us then (!) that our son is not qualified for some course? Are there options that they won't tell us unless we make ourselves a real pain?

Our high school has AP courses, not IB. This should make scheduling issues a little easier, but we can't just look at the high school course list and assume that the courses will be available anytime. What are scheduling questions I should ask?

Another issue is which courses are good (rigorous). My son is thinking about taking German as a foreign language in high school, but I've heard that it's more about making sauerbraten than speaking German fluently. One parent told me that she had to supplement at home with Rosetta Stone.

Remember in the other thread about the "Pathways to Success" for math? They made it seem like there are many paths, but in reality, there is only one; Advanced Math in 5th grade, Algebra I in 8th grade, and at least Trig by your senior year.

What other keys to success are they withholding from us?

forty-two said...

What other keys to success are they withholding from us?Based on my experience, if you have even the slightest interest in going for valedictorian, make sure you know exactly how the school determines class rank and who gets the top spot before you register for any classes. (It should be in the school handbook.)

When I was in 8th grade, at the high school info meeting they made a big deal about taking no more than 2 honors classes in 9th grade. High school work is so much harder, they said (true enough, as we followed the middle school model; no honors classes and my friends and I counted 100s on our report cards), and the adjustment would be difficult enough without piling on honors classes. I think there were some cautionary tales to prove their point. Very convincing, enough so that my mom was a bit worried about my plan to take all four honors classes offered. I was confident in my abilities, liked a challenge, and so I did it anyway. It worked out fine - I had no trouble at all with the increased workload.

As it turns out, I lucked out by ignoring the guidance counselors' advice. In all their handwringing about the dangers of taking more than two honors classes, they never mentioned that, to have any chance of being valedictorian at our school, you *had* to take at least 3 honors classes every year (getting As in them all), including 9th. (We had weighted GPAs, with honors classes getting an extra point; they capped GPAs at 4.5, with everyone at or above tied at #1. They then used grades in academic subjects to break the tie for valedictorian and salutatorian.) Anyone who listened to the guidance counselors and took only two was out of the running before the race even began. (My mom was always mad about that.)

SteveH said...

"...they never mentioned that, to have any chance of being valedictorian at our school, you *had* to take at least 3 honors classes every year (getting As in them all), including 9th."

That's a good one. Thanks! How assertive did you have to be to get what you wanted? Do school handbooks usually spell out all of the deatils, or are there many things to know that are not in the handbook?

forty-two said...

How assertive did you have to be to get what you wanted?Not too much, actually. While our teachers were really worried about those of us signing up for all honors - I overheard one teacher mention me by name, practically in tears - as they thought we would be massively overwhelmed, they still gave approval. (We had to have a teacher signature to sign up for honors classes (math teacher for honors math, etc.). There was probably a grade requirement, too.) I was the top student in my year, though, and well-liked by all my teachers, so it may have been harder for others. Still, I don't recall hearing about any problems outside of the science teacher.

That was the only big problem I remember - my science teacher flat out refused to sign if you were taking all four honors. I don't know what happened with the unlucky person who figured that out, but after I heard about that I got her signature first to avoid problems.

(As for how it worked, we registered in the second semester of 8th grade. The high school sent over the forms, we filled them out and turned them back in at the middle school, and they sent them back to the high school.)

Once you were in honors, keeping a B average was good enough to keep you in; a C required teacher approval, but it never seemed to be a problem.

Do school handbooks usually spell out all of the details, or are there many things to know that are not in the handbook?The handbook had a lot of good info, although as far as I know I was the only person to read through all of it. You had to infer a lot, though. It never said explicitly, "You must take 3 or more honors classes every year to have a chance at valedictorian," but that was the net result of how they determined class rank. Also, it gave all the rules, but didn't tell you which ones mattered and which ones didn't.

All that sort of stuff I learned from other honors kids, especially those ahead of me, as well as from the honors teachers and just keeping my eyes open. We gossiped a lot and told all sorts of urban legends about previous students, teachers, and admin - you learn more than you think that way.

forty-two said...

Thinking back, the handbook was more helpful than my previous post made it sound. I knew all the graduation requirements, was able to plan my own schedule, and didn't have to rely on the guidance counselors. We were a big school - 3,000 students - with just 5 guidance counselors. They had no idea who you were, and they never initiated a meeting.

SteveH said...

"... you learn more than you think that way."

I'll have to tell my son to start paying attention now. I've already started asking other parents, but I only get information in bits and pieces, and sometimes it comes with a funny spin on it. Some kids and parents have told me that a particular course is really good and interesting, but when I talked to another parent, she said that's because they don't have much homework and the tests are easy.

I'm off to study the online handbook right now. Thanks.

lgm said...

When you look at your high school handbooks, look for:

a) GPA/course weighting policy
b) 3 year graduation policy
c) transfer in of courses from accredited providers policy
d) official policy for level placement (as in honors, AP, remedial, regular)

Ours have a lot of unwritten. For ex. our official policy is good past performance plus current teacher req for honors placement in a subject. The unofficial policy - never told to students - is 95 or better in grade, teacher req and CogAT in 8th or 9th stanine. Miss the grade or the CogAt just barely and you can get in to honors or accel. with a parental phone call to the g.c., miss two and your parent must move up the ladder. Also science and math are tied can't accelerate in one without accelerating in the other. Other districts in the area merely require a 90 or greater OR teacher's req. in the preceding year for admission to an honors section the following year. And they actually offer honors sections, rather than just the reg. ed. course a year early.

Also be aware that file use is very common now. Teachers' children are good sources.

Cranberry said...

lgm, what is "file use"?

forty-two, our local high school claims that gpa is "unweighted, except for honors and AP." This means that it's weighted, of course. I'm not focused on valedictorian for my children. I am concerned about class rank, as that is a metric that selective colleges consider. With no honors in the humanities, it's very hard for the kids who are superb in the humanities, but o.k. in math/science. The gpa formula works against them.

lgm said...

cranberry, a file is all the paperwork associated with a course that a student accumulates. Lecture notes, quizzes, handouts, tests, projects etc.

A student that has a particular instructor's file has a distinct advantage in that he knows what to expect before all other students do since he is the only one with any idea of the syllabus. Also, he has access to the rubrics used to evaluate projects and labs (our district does not give syllabi or rubrics in advance). I first noticed file use in Grade 5; by Grade 6 every honors wanna-be has a file if they didn't get the 95 on the first test. (must have 95 or above to get in to honors the following year)

Some colleges will make previous tests w/answers available in the library and lecture notes on the prof's website for the course in order to level the playing field. My district does not.

If a student is stuck with a teacher that is unable to teach the section the full course, the file will let him survive the Regent's exams. If he's got a competent teacher that re-uses old tests, the file users have guaranteed 100s (if they are competent students).

For math in NY, there's a nice website here that is attempting to level the playing in regards to acheiving the honors distinction on the Regent's exams field:

SteveH said...

I've gone through our high school handbook and there are a number of things that aren't well defined, but I'm sure that the details matter. One detail that did catch my eye was that the results of state testing are included with all requests for student transcripts. This means that I have to make sure my son can answer the typical silly "thinking" questions on these tests.

I'm also not familiar with the idea of "file use". Even after your explanation, it's still a little fuzzy. How organized is "file" collection among students and parents. Actually, this sort of thing guarantees that I will tell my son not to try for a rank in the top 5. It seems like gaming the system issues go up dramatically, and the psychic (and real) energy is misplaced. All that energy for an extra point in the third decimal place of GPA, and all it takes is one minor thing out of your control to screw it up.

If my son wants to play that sort of game, I would recommend that he graduate to the big leagues. He needs to decide what college he wants to go to and then figure out what is needed to get there.

Cranberry said...

lgm, thank you, it was a new concept. I'd call re-using old tests laziness.

"must have 95 or above to get in to honors the following year"

I'm starting to think that the restriction of access to honors courses drives hyper-competitiveness in the honors students, and apathy for the students who aren't in honors courses. I'm not certain of a way around that, because washout approaches seem to be very popular.

If 95 is the lowest permissible average to remain in honors, then I don't think the course is challenging enough for serious students. There isn't the room to make mistakes. The use of files indicates a need to adhere very closely to what the teacher wants to hear. There isn't any room in such an environment for real understanding, because if you try to understand something, you won't be reciting received knowledge.

If there is a syllabus, all students should have a copy, at the start of the course. All tests and paper subjects should be new each year.

I've heard of fraternities keeping files on courses, with last year's exam, and such. I don't think that anyone would seriously argue that relying on such things improves one's education. It leads to better grades, perhaps, but restricts the range of learning.

lgm said...

>>If 95 is the lowest permissible average to remain in honors

clarification - 95 or greater is needed to enter honors the following year if such a course exists. 85 or better to remain; student will be dropped at the quarter if unable.

> how organized

I can't tell...found out by accident. Just another tool besides tutoring that is used to maintain the honors placements.

I totally agree with your comments Cranberry on the course quality and the lack of room to make mistakes/grow. The counselors here are saying carry a 92 average if the student is looking for a state college.