kitchen table math, the sequel: Switched on Mom has a blog!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Switched on Mom has a blog!

You probably all knew that.

This is exciting.
Two MCPS officials gave the presentation and led off with one of those painful “warm-up” exercises where they 1) offer a statement like “Most parents want their children to have the opportunity to go to college,” 2) ask those gathered to raise their “Agree” or “Disagree” card–and then 3) have the participants share why they said what they did.


“This is more than an information campaign,” the MCPS official intoned, “this is about advocacy.” Roll tape/DVD of the “Seven Keys to College Readiness” – “a pathway identified by MCPS that will increase the likelihood of students being ready for college and earning a degree.” (The video is on the Keys homepage.)

Next the presenter shared a cautionary tale from his own family, of a nephew who was getting A’s and B’s in elementary and middle school but got off track in high school. He should have tried AP classes but didn’t. He didn’t graduate on time with his class, so Uncle MCPS had him move in and he was now taking remedial classes at Montgomery College on his own dime. Tough stuff. But it went further. Uncle MCPS persuaded the kid to tell his story to the camera and to us directly. Roll tape again. “If there had been a better relationship between my parents and the school, I would have done better,” the student said. Ouch.

Sobering Seven Keys Meeting

A better relationship?


SwitchedOnMom said...

(blush) I'm flattered by your enthusiastic endorsement, Catherine. Thank you!

Barry Garelick said...

I'm guessing that Take 1 of the kid's sound bite was something like this:

"If the school had actually bothered to teach me something, I would have done better."


SteveH said...

Apparently, the seven keys are not new to MCPS, so what was stopping them before?

Our town gives a math test in 6th grade to determine how many kids get on the algebra in 8th grade track. It's a timed, skill-based test. If you don't get on the top math track, you end up on a math track to nowhere. Many (high SES) parents are surprised when this happens. Many don't figure out that this skills test comes after 6 years of Everyday Math and very low expectations for skills.

SteveH said...

"Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. these are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do."

If parents do these things (and many do), then what? As those at KTM know, it takes much more parental intervention and/or outside tutoring to achieve success.

This has been a vague copout for too long. I want a detailed list of those things schools want parents to do. Detailed. They can even put it on a form and I will sign it.

But what will the school do in return? Do they think that everyone will be on the path to college just by going to school on time and attempting to do homework?

I've mentioned before that schools should ask parents of successful students for details. Why are some kids successful and why are some not? Algebra in 8th grade? Well, it wasn't achieved by just getting to school on time and doing the homework. What about those times we parents receive notes from the school about practicing math facts with our kids? Oops, add that to the list of things that parents need to do.

Parents jobs:

1. Ensure that learning gets done.

2. Know what it takes to get to algebra in 8th grade even if the school doesn't explicitly tell you.

3. Provide outside tutoring as needed.

What other jobs should be added to the list of things that parents have to sign off on?

palisadesk said...

What other jobs should be added to the list of things that parents have to sign off on?4. Teach your child to read.

5. Teach your child to spell.

6. Teach your child grammar, history, geography and science.

Anonymous said...

7. Teach your child to write. Schools don't believe in correcting errors in grammar or style any more and certainly not in legible penmanship.

8. Expose your child to good fiction and non-fiction (including poetry) that increases their knowledge of human nature, widens their horizons and stimulates their imagination.

9. Stretch your child's memory, with mastery of math facts and the memorization of passages of songs, poetry, fiction and nonfiction, as well as ordinary things like state capitals, agricultural products etc.

10. Teach them the value of persistence and self-discipline so they may experience the satisfaction of real achievement.

11. Teach them that real life brings challenges and disappointments and how to deal with them. Life isn't always fair.

etc. - this could go on a long time...

Anonymous said...

12. Teach your child another language (or have someone else teach your child). Waiting until middle school or high school is too late.

VickyS said...

8. Expose your child to good fiction and non-fiction (including poetry) that increases their knowledge of human nature, widens their horizons and stimulates their imagination.But this would require that they raise their eyes from their permanent lock on their navels. How do you FEEL about that?

SteveH said...

This is Key number 3.

"Complete advanced math (Math 6) in Grade 5"

"Students can start advanced math as early as kindergarten. In 5th grade, advanced math means Math 6 or higher. Students who successfully complete end-of-unit assessments for Math 6 will be well prepared to successfully complete Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Math 6 is available in all elementary schools."

Is there a link to the test or requirements to get into Math 6 in fifth grade? My reaction is that they are providing some sort of natural selection process, but ignoring what could be achieved with a good curriculum, good teaching, high expectations, and hard work. Tracking and telling parents are not enough.

In the video we are told that all is not lost if your child does not get to Math 6 in grade 5, but we aren't told what percent of kids make it back up to the top level. We are told that some kids are just not ready yet. (blame the student) But how many of them will never be ready due to a bad curriculum and poor teaching? Their system is designed to avoid addressing that problem.

Tex said...

More for that list:

13. Teach your fifth grader the “21st century” skill of researching the internet so he can write that research paper on global warming that he was assigned. The school has already covered the part about “Googling it”, so you can skip that.

14. Also, teach him the prerequisite knowledge to understand global warming, ‘cause that was certainly never taught in grades K-4.

15. Oh, almost forgot. Teach him how to write a research paper. First lesson: it’s not the same as the journal writing you’ve been doing since first grade.

SteveH said...

Is this just a MCPS thing?

Pathways to Success in MathIt's unbelievable. Just because they set up these paths doesn't mean that kids will get there. What do they use for a K-6 math curriculum? What tests or grades do they use for all of the alternate branches?

When they say that Math 6 in fifth grade is a "key", it means that these other paths are really, really, really unlikely.

On top of those pathway arrows they should put the percent of students who get there. Actually, I like this a lot because they are getting down to details. They just have to go further to see how badly everything works.

SwitchedOnMom said...

Steve, I'm actually embarrassed to say that I don't know what math textbook/curriculum they use in MCPS. However here's some info on Algebra and Geometry completion:

For those really interested in geeking out on MCPS data, this is a key (pun intended) page, a link to their department of testing, research and evaluation:

They've *just* posted a new report which I haven't had time to read yet (hey, it's mother's day) entitled "Closing the Gap: Seven Keys to College Readiness for Students of all Races/Ethnicities"

Catherine Johnson said...

12. Teach your child another language (or have someone else teach your child). Waiting until middle school or high school is too late.amen to that

I blew it on this one

We have TWO fluent speakers of French in the house & the only kid who understands any French is Andrew


SteveH said...

After studying the MCPS site for a while, I couldn't find anything about which K-6 math curriculum they use. Whichever one it is, it would have to be modified quite a bit to adhere to their Pathways to Success flowchart.

I also looked to see if they have specific criteria for placement in Math 6 instead of Math 5. I couldn't find anything other than this:

"Your child’s current teacher will bring all she or he knows about your child’s individual needs and capabilities to the placement decision, as we complete a thorough articulation process for each and every student."

"Although many variables are involved in class placement, school staff must determine final placement."

However, in another location I found a description of a process where you can appeal to the principal. If accepted, the student will be allowed to take the course, but on a provisional basis.

I suppose the good point of all of this is that they admit that

"Complete advanced math (Math 6) in Grade 5"

is a fundamental key for getting to college. They are saying that it all starts back in grammar school. Parents should demand to see the percent of students who get into college who DON'T get to this level in fifth grade. How many of these students go to something other than a community college and how many get into a science, math, or engineering department.

In any case, it will cause a really big demand to get kids into Math 6 in grade 5. MCPS could respond by watering down Math 6 or it could try to figure out how to get more students up to this level. It may end up being a litle of both, but that will just move the filter point from Math 6 in fifth grade to someplace else, like algebra in 8th grade.

At least they are stating that the goal is algebra in 8th grade and that they use the Glencoe Algebra I textbook. They are admitting that this is NOT a high school problem.

Hopefully, the demand will end up forcing the lower grades to deal with reality. College requirements start in K-6.

They can pretend that this is all about motivation, but when many students start to try really, really hard to get to Math 6 in fifth grade and don't get there, they will have to find some other explanation. Hopefully, it will be the correct one.

PaulaV said...

"My reaction is that they are providing some sort of natural selection process, but ignoring what could be achieved with a good curriculum, good teaching, high expectations, and hard work."

Bingo! My fifth grader (I'm in Loudoun County, VA) recently took the Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test. Prior to the test, I asked his teacher on how the school prepared the students for it. The response was the school did not prepare the kids because it was based on aptitude...aka, natural ability.

The test results are back and he received a 52%. You have to score 80 or above to take Pre-Algebra in 6th grade. He was recommended for Math 6, but my husband wants him to take Pre-Algebra anyway.

However, the kicker is that the Virginia Department of Education recently completed a review of the math Standards of Learning (SOL) and announced significant revisions that will have an impact in several grades.

According to a letter I received, the revised SOL will shift instruction in many topics and skills to earlier grades in an effort to have more students ready for advanced courses.

So, this means in the fall, the new SOL in Math 6 will include many topics and skills that have been a part of the Math 7 curriculum. Thus, the new Math 7 will include skills typically taught in Pre-Algebra and grade 8 and so on.

My dilemma is should we leave him in Math 6 or try to place him in Pre-Algebra? Does it matter since the standards have changed anyway?

I think he is in a better place than most students given the fact he was in Kumon for two years. However, it looks as though I will be finding a tutor this summer to gear up for middle school math.

Oh, did I mention was recommended for all honors classes? I'm wondering just how prepared he is going to be for these classes. I hear from other parents that middle school is easier than elementary.
Shouldn't it be the reverse?

These are strange days.

SteveH said...

Let me get this straight. They don't prepare kids because the test is based on natural ability (whatever that is), and the placement is based on this test, but they are going to change the SOL to better prepare kids for placement?

What math curriculum do you have for K-6? Do all paths use the same curriculum? Is it acceleration or is is enrichment?

What math textbooks are used for Pre-Algebra and Algebra I? If different paths use different textbooks, that's very meaningful. Don't just look at the name of the course, look at the textbooks. You can get two types of algebra textbooks from most publishers. The rule of thumb I use is that the more rigorous ones are labelled simply Pre-Algebra and Algebra I, whereas the lower expectation textbooks have an added subtitle, like "Tools for a Changing World". Avoid classes with those textbooks like the plague.

I think the key to making the transition from fuzzy K-6 math to the AP calculus track in high school is good math (solid Pre-Algebra and Algebra textbooks) in 7th and 8th grades. I don't think Pre-Algebra in 6th grade is necessary, but my goal would be to make sure my son is on whatever the top track is. That's where the best students will be and the highest expectations. At least I would hope that's true. Ask for numbers. How many kids get to calculus who are not in the top track?

My son had Glencoe's Pre-Algebra in 6th grade (a special case in our school), but that's because I wanted to avoid 6th grade Everyday Math at all costs and our school was flexible. Now that he is in 7th grade, I'm teaching him with the Glencoe Algebra I text at home because it's easier than screwing up his schedule. To get ahead, I had to work with him a lot in the summer between 5th and 6th grades. I don't see any real advantage of him being ahead one year, but I would advise anyone else that being behind a year or on some lower math track is not a good place to be.

The problem with the MCPS Pathways to Success is that many of the paths are up the sides of mountains. If the school doesn't help you up some of the smaller hills in the early grades, you're in big trouble.

Acutally, I'm glad to see that states/districts are defining how the path to college starts in K-6. They will have to be specific about placement criteria. It's one thing to have low cut-off state requirements for math, but it's much better to see the top-track cut-offs. Those will place much more pressure on K-6 schools to improve their math education. Parents won't let them get away with aptitude or natural ability for very long.

VickyS said...

"Easier" needs to be defined.

In our experience, middle school (in this case, 5th & 6th grade) was easier academically (i.e., they didn't learn very much).

However it was harder in terms of the sheer amount of (busy) work that had to be done, the emphasis on crafts (make a mobile with your favorite quotes), and the headaches that came with managing multiple long-term projects, deadlines, etc.

This is especially tough on boys.

I think this is consistent with the middle school model, which (according to critics like me) pretty much puts academics on hold for a couple years while emphasizing socialization.

As for the math, I'd recommend doing whatever it takes to make sure he has Calculus by the time he is a senior in high school. Work backwards. Maybe your school system looks like this:

8-algebra I
10-algebra II

It also depends on your son's interest and aptitude. You probably know his aptitude better than any test. Is he a "mathy" kid? Then maybe push him. If not, maybe let him stay in math 6.

Pushing kids in math is a delicate thing and most of us here do it I think. I'm continually worried that I will cause my kids to end up hating it. Thankfully, my older son, like Catherine's son, survived my instruction, loves math and does well. For my younger one, the jury's still out, but this year finally I am encouraged. He's getting it, and although he's not liking it much yet, he is seeing so much progress that he is feeling pretty good about himself and, hence, the math. (Hey, self-esteem resulting from achievement--maybe someone should point this out to the ed school gurus!)

Both boys have had many afternoons and evenings of tears, tantrums, and other frustrations as we've worked on math at home over the years. I do hope they look back on it and say, thanks Mom!

VickyS said...

I agree with Steve that the textbook is critical, but Paula it sounds like a textbook change might be in the works to implement their new instructional goals, so be sure you get your hands on the correct ones.

Many of us here are familiar with the various middle school math textbooks out there and can probably give you feedback if you can find out which ones they are.

My son was in a 7th grade pre-algebra class last year which was pretty good; they used Glencoe's Impact Math series (2003) which many people don't like but the teacher was good. However my son does not want to ever see another "function machine" and I can tell you, it sure didn't help him learn what a function was!!

I am currently using McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin Algebra I, An Integrated Approach (Benson et al.) for algebra for him. Despite its title, it is a good book. Logical, coherent. The "integrated" in the title mostly comes from the fact than in the problem sets, now and then they throw in a random problem from a previous chapter (we skip those, because they invariably cause my son to spin his wheels wondering how the heck that problem fits in with what he's doing which is frustrating if he doesn't understand they are red herrings!). The "integrated" thing also comes into play in some questions that combine concepts, such as finding "x" if a rectangle with one side = x+3 and another side = x-6 has an area of 54. I actually like those problems.

An interesting side note is that in Germany (and probably other European countries) math is math, it's all integrated. I've looked at our foreign exchange student's German math textbook and it's awesome. But it's integrated. An integrated approach per se is not a bad thing but the problem is that here in the US it is usually a code word for fuzzy.

Tex said...

I think this is consistent with the middle school model, which (according to critics like me) pretty much puts academics on hold for a couple years while emphasizing socialization.Boy, that’s a good way to describe it. Around here, it’s all about making sure the students are part of a “caring community.”

SteveH said...

"Around here, it’s all about making sure the students are part of a 'caring community.'"

At our middle school, it's harder. After the fuzzy and full-inclusion K-6 years, they have to put the screws to the kids to get them ready for high school. That doesn't necessarily mean that the work is better or there is less art work. It's just that they expect more. If you don't get your planner signed off by a parent each week - detention. If you don't have your homework done just right - detention. You get the idea.

That event my son was invited to last week? He would like to give detentions to all of the teachers.

Anonymous said...


The K-6 curriculum in Loudoun varies from school to school and city to city. Some schools use TERC math investigations as a supplement (my son's school does this) and others use full math investigations. I'm assuming the county uses the same textbook which is Virginia Mathematics Scott Foresman/Addison Wesley edition 2005. My son has rarely used his math textbook because his school relies heavily on the Pearson computer program called SME and worksheets from various places. It is a hodge podge of math activities and depends on the teacher.

The Math 6 class uses Glencoe Applications and Concepts: Course 1, 2005 edition. The Accelerated Math 6/Math 7 uses the same textbook, but
Course 2. The textbook for Pre-Algebra is by Glencoe, edition 2005. The Algebra I, Algebra I, Part 1 and Geometry textbooks are by McDougal Littell, edition 2007.

It's funny you mentioned using a good math textbook and curriculum because last week I talked with my son's teacher about the very same thing. She said the kids were exposed to algebra and did fairly well once in middle school. She also suggested I attend a Marilyn Burns workshop.

The first time I heard of Marilyn Burns was when I emailed Bill Quirk and he said to stay away from anything related to her.


SteveH said...

Trust Bill.

Marilyn just shows how you can make really big bucks telling people what they want to hear at $200/day/person. Teachers can get graduate credit, and if they are lucky (and the taxpayers not), the school will pay for it.

Anonymous said...


There is a math informational meeting at the middle school tomorrow night, so perhaps it is there I will learn more about the new standards and textbooks.

As for my son being mathy, I wouldn't say that per se, but he felt successful in Kumon and has asked to go back. (We decided to take him out this year.) However, my husband and I pushed him and it took some time to get through the tears and frustration. Part of me felt torn about being so hard on him because I didn't want him to end up hating math, but I also did not want him to think he could never do it because someone told him he couldn't do math due to the lack of natural ability...whatever that is.

As for middle school being easier, I should have clarified. I meant easier for my son since his elementary school experience wasn't the best. He is ready to move on and so am I.