kitchen table math, the sequel: the problem in a nutshell

Monday, June 18, 2012

the problem in a nutshell

Why does accelerating algebra for everyone not help? Moving on the same curve with a relabelled x axis does not change the curve.


SteveH said...

Unfortunately, educators see some kids who make the transition. They don't see what goes on at home and they don't want to ask the parents of these kids.

In 7th and 8th grades in our middle school, they stress the idea that kids should take more responsibility for their own learning; to become lifelong learners. This seems to be a way of avoiding the parent help or tutoring issue. They can believe these kids do well because they step up to the plate and work hard. Their parents (apparently) just turn off the TV and model an interest in education. Add to that the idea that kids just need to be motivated and engaged and you get a system that has plenty of reasons not to look in the mirror.

I've always wanted to quantify that discontinuity in curriculum. I want to show that the only kids who make the transition are the ones who get help at home or with tutoring. CCSS might define a path that seems continuous, but continuity won't be anywhere near their proficiency cutoff, and they won't want to define an upper STEM minimum to their path.

SteveH said...

Educators play fast and loose with their talk of STEM. CCSS targets a pseudo algebra II standard, but they don't care if that point is the base camp or the peak of the mountain. With STEM, it has to be a base camp for college, but CCSS now only seems to be worried about making sure kids don't have to take remedial math courses in college. Amazingly, they never had a plan to get college buy-in when they developed the standard in the first place. I don't even know if the tests that will be used (like PARCC) line up with the Accuplacer test that some colleges use.

Even if they redefine algebra so that it is continuous with the end of the lower K-6 slope, it would still require a higher slope to get students where they need to go for a STEM career. This is not likely to happen no matter how much motivation or engagement students have. Project Lead the Way will not motivate away the problems of K-6 math. Our high school offers algebra courses with "labs" that try to fix gaps in skills. High schools do this rather than work with the lower schools to prevent the problems in the first place. They just say it's a student issue; that it's a matter of motivation.

In effect, CCSS extends the lower slope of the curve and takes four high school years to get through a partial algebra II level. This is bad on two levels. First, it provides no path to STEM careers that requires many students to get through differential equations in college. Second, it tortures already math damaged kids into taking math that has little to do with the career path they might want to take. For the helped-at-home STEM career path kids, CCSS is meaningless. For the rest, it's continued torture in classes that probably emphasize engagement and the idea that all THEY have to have is motivation. All because K-6 schools live in their own math dreamworld and high schools don't have the guts to point that out.

SteveH said...

In fact, I can see CCSS allowing middle schools to take a step backwards. High school geometry requirements drove out CMP at our middle school. They replaced it with the rigorous Glencoe series of Pre-Algebra and Algebra I that the high school uses. The lower level students use the same textbooks, but go at a slower pace.

With CCSS and the mania to align everything (at all levels) to the standard, there might be a temptation to go to pre-aligned packaged curriculua like the MyMath/Glencoe Math (course 1, 2, and 3) series. I'm sure the people at Glencoe could elaborate on the huge difference in rigor between their different "algebra" texts.

For our small middle school, will the temptation for alignment overcome their desire to offer a proper path for students who want to get to geometry as freshmen in high school? Will they go to the watered down Glencoe Math courses 1, 2, and 3? Will they go back to the old CMP method of using the weak math curriculum, but somehow differentiate to help those who want to get to geometry in their freshman year? Before, I never thought we could go backwards, but now I'm not so sure.