kitchen table math, the sequel: Another School Year - Any Surprises?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Another School Year - Any Surprises?

Our first day of school was canceled due to a strike by the service workers union. Of course this issue existed back in June, and of course everyone knew it will have to be decided in the courts, but there they were the night before trying to come to an agreement which both sides knew would never come. If the town canceled school the night before, the workers were prepared to show up for work the next day, so the town decided to wait until they saw the picket signs the next morning. By the time that happened, some kids were already on their busses. The union then claimed that the pickets were only informational. In then end, it didn't matter. The town went to court and the workers went back to work the next day, as everyone knew they would. This drama was supposed to get more parents on the side of the union? The problem has to do with outsourcing of the janitorial staff. This reminds me of some of the things Catherine was talking about in terms of controlling costs. It's tough to get back what you've given away for many years.

The other surprise was the real effect of cutting two busses. This meant longer routes and a need to move the earliest pickup back 10 min to 6:20am. It also meant that school would start 10 minutes earlier in the high school and the elementary school kids would get out 10 minutes later. They forgot to talk about that when they were cutting costs in the spring.

My son (junior) likes his teachers, but the intro talks by his AP teachers give him the impression that their goal is to teach these lazy kids all about hard work. This seems to be a common control meme in high school. Although the school pushes AP classes, one of his teachers claimed that they were in the class because either they thought very highly of themselves, or because their mommies and daddies told them to take the course.


Anonymous said...

My daughter is a senior and is taking AP Physics and AP Calculus this year. The AP Calc teacher gives them a problem, has them work it in pairs, groups, their choice, and then if they can't figure it out they can ask her for help. It's a good thing that group work is allowed in this class, because it's the only way the kids are figuring anything out.

I ordered a subscription to Thinkwell AP Calculus so that she'll have someone willing to teach her AP Calculus.

My 5th grader has made 100s on all his math tests and assignments so far this year (school started August 6). They are mostly reviewing stuff they covered last year. His new duty in math class (until the accelerated pull out class begins next week) is to go around and be the teacher's math assistant. He gets to work with his fellow classmates who don't yet know or can't recall how to multiply 2 digit by 2 digit, or even 2 digit by 1 digit numbers. He said they spent over 40 minutes working 4 problems yesterday.

To top that off, his teacher mentioned in her weekly newsletter to parents that she was setting up math centers that they would begin using next week. Math centers...for 5th graders.

SteveH said...

My son's AP Physics teacher seems to be the type who just gives them problems to work on in class without much lecture. They were adding vectors today and were supposed to use a ruler and a protractor. My son was disappointed.

"...setting up math centers ..."

What are math centers?

I also found out that our lower schools are using IXL Math. I think they are using it to supplement Everyday Math to meet the Core Standards. The school doesn't like to give details on their web site. We're not supposed to look behind the curtain.

AmyP said...

"Although the school pushes AP classes, one of his teachers claimed that they were in the class because either they thought very highly of themselves, or because their mommies and daddies told them to take the course."

That might be some psychologically justifiable beginning of the year shock-and-awe.

Or just jerkiness. Too early to tell right now.

cranberry said...

Or just jerkiness. Too early to tell right now.

Oh, no, Amy P, it's an established attitude. The teacher may only be voicing a sentiment held by many of his peers. Steve H, let me guess: You live in an upper-income community on the East or West coast, with an above-average number of above-average students in the high school, primarily due to people sorting themselves into the most expensive towns they can afford?

Because we heard the "AP = parental pushiness" sentiment in our local district well before our kids reached high school age. There's also the sentiment that the AP is somehow both too rigid (i.e., not "authentic") and too much busywork.

Many affluent high schools ration access to AP work, in particular by tying it to math & science scores.

See "Winner Take All High School," by Paul Attewell. Catherine has covered his work before:

The "Best American High Schools" push for AP for all has helped to give many students more access. Ironically, as the decision is made on a district level, it seems the least prepared students have been pushed into classes they're not prepared for, while well-prepared students in the affluent suburbs are not allowed to take "too many" APs.

VR said...

The AP Potential tool
predicts the probability of getting a 3 or higher and 4 or higher on a given AP exam based on a student's PSAT score. For example, someone with a score in the range 71-75 on the PSAT math has an 88.6% chance of scoring a 3 or higher and a 63.5% chance of scoring 4 or higher on the Physics B exam. SAT math equivalent scores can also be used.

If your child is well-qualified for an AP course based on his PSAT score, but the school treats you like a pushy parent, show them this tool.

Anonymous said...

Steve, math centers are basically math workstation areas (think preschool centers -- ours had one called housekeeping (stove, sink, play fridge), blocks, reading center, etc). Math centers contain math games and activities set up at stations around the room. Group activities and math play.

Our experience with math centers for our younger child (1st grade) is that they expect them to pick up major concepts through nothing but game play. It didn't work for him.

SteveH said...

"Math centers contain math games and activities set up at stations around the room."

Eeek! For fifth grade?

Anonymous said...

"Eeek! For fifth grade?"

Apparently, yes. I think it's the teacher...and I'm thinking that if it keeps going downhill, I'll be negotiating a class change. This teacher rewrote a current girly pop song to teach the class order of operations. It was disturbing. And made something simple (PEMDAS anyone?) into something time consuming and embarrassing for my son.

How are these poor kids going to handle math once they hit middle school and they don't have math centers?

SteveH said...

"Or just jerkiness."

It seems to be a combination of attitude and control. I think that some teachers like to put students on the defensive right away.

Our high school has an AP banner telling everyone that it has won an award for encouraging more kids to take AP classes. They have an open house every year to promote AP. The high school has 1700 kids from families that are a mix of the affluent to the not affluent. It's not one of the small, strictly affluent towns that people move to because everyone is alike. People in our area seem to like the diversity.

The teacher who made the comment teaches AP US History, an AP class that (too?) many think they should take. However, guidance is telling kids that what colleges want to see are students who challenge themselves. Also, add to that the bonus of extra GPA weight of the class. Regular College Prep classes are weighted as 3, honors are 3.4, and AP are 3.7.That's huge when it comes to class rank. Another school in our area gives no extra weighting for honors or AP. This is a reverse incentive. Our school has an AP arms race. Another school in our area, which is in a strictly affluent town, seems to dislike and discount AP classes. It's interesting how the attitudes can vary.

At our school, the teachers should be on-board with the "push-AP" program and be encouraging. My guess is that he was using the comment as a control tool. Maybe he has gotten annoyed at dealing with students who are in over their heads, but he shouldn't treat all kids that way. He should find smooth ways to help them or move them out to other history classes.

Anonymous said...

In our school, a number of kids ended up in AP US History, only to find out they couldn't handle it. The school had nowhere to put them when they wanted out.

AP US History is a whole lotta facts. Even if your kid knows a lot about history, it's a lot of work.

My son did fine (AP-5/SAT II-800), but I have never seen him work so hard for anything in his entire school career. Luckily, he loved the subject and probably more important, he loved the teacher.

He did report to me that a number of kids ended up with Cs and lower. The teacher had done a good job of making sure they knew that they would be doing a lot of work, but apparently some were really caught off guard by how intense it was.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The AP-for-all movement is watering down AP courses in some places, making them no longer suitable for the kids a year or two ahead of their classmates (as was originally intended).

It is also driving some kids to overload on the number of AP courses, resulting in sleep deprivation and less learning than they might have gotten on a saner schedule.

See my post

lgm said...

Our suprise was that our child was admitted to an AP English Lit course. He has the PSAT scores to show he's capable, but the district had refused to put him in honors English all along. All we can figure is that the political faves went for the dual enrollment English course, leaving seats in AP.

Our bus routes were reversed last year, so that those closest to the school are now picked up first. It's a strategy to get students to not use the bus and improve the profitably of the bus co. Why be at the bus stop at 6:20 am when you can leave an hour later and still arrive in time?

No surprise to me, but my neighbors were surprised at the number of elective classes that were cancelled.

Genevieve said...

Our big surprise was a total lack of communication on what was actually happening with the math placement for our daughter.

At the end of last year we were told that all of the children identified as gifted and talented would be placed in one room (so about 1/3 of the students. Then at registration we found out this would not be the case. Nobody told us, we just noticed that the class lists were different. Then we were told that the three students that were placed a grade ahead in math the year before, would meet with a special teacher during math this year. However, so far this year, my daughter has instead gone up to the 5th grade classroom. So now she is a grade up in math, but with the average students because the smarter students are doing 6th grade math. One day a week she is back with her normal class, because the 5th graders have library during math time. While not ideal, we can deal with this turn of events. It would have been nice if someone would have communicated with us what was happening. Finding out second hand from a 9 year old is not ideal.

Really we should be use to a complete lack of communication from the school.

lgm said...

The lack of communication hit here too. My 10th grader was not put in his recommended math class because our S.U.N.Y. 2 yr college provider does not allow 10th graders to dual enroll. No one contacted us to discuss the options. The lack of options for advanced math students seems to be a barrier set from the top. What's wrong with the Regents that they can't allow the top public schooled talent to have appropriate classes in high school?