I have a Common Core math question. My 8th grader daughter (a homeschooler) is taking algebra I this year. She was talking with her friend, who is in 7th grade and wanted to take algebra this year but was not allowed--for the first time they were only letting 8th graders take it. (This kid btw is older than her classmates, owing to a late birthday and having started school in another state with an earlier cutoff date.) So she wants to take it next year, but now they won't let her do that. From now on, algebra I will only be taught at the high school. This is said to be a CC thing.I wonder whether the history of 8th-grade algebra in my district is scattered across the two ktm blogs? It might be.
We are in CA, and for years they've been pushing algebra in 8th grade. I am, of course, against kids taking it if they're unprepared, but I can't see why they won't let prepared students do it. Does anyone understand this?
At dinner tonight, we were joking that my husband should start an underground algebra class...
I first got into the afterschooling business when I discovered, at the end of the school year, that Chris had flunked a test on fractions in 4th grade. I found a crumpled test in his backpack. (I was working under an insane deadline -- actually, an insane missed-the-deadline-by-a-mile-and-now-everyone-wants-to-kill-me deadline, which is worse -- so I found out after the fact.
As it turned out, he hadn't just flunked a test. He had flunked a unit. And it wasn't just one unit, it was two, both involving fractions, as I recall. (I discovered the crumpled test from the other unit at least a year later, maybe longer -- short attention span theater.)
The school had told us nothing about any of this, and intended to do nothing about it, a fact I simply took for granted at the time. Why would our fantastically well-funded suburban school district concern itself with whether children actually learned the math teachers were teaching?
Not only had the school told us nothing, but on the one occasion I did acquire evidence, in real time, that Chris was collapsing in math his teacher told me, "Don't worry about his grade. He understands." That sounded wrong to me, but, on the other hand, what did I know? His teacher said he understood, so fair enough.
But now it was summer, and I was in possession of a test on fractions with a grade of -- was it 39?
Pretty sure the exact numerical grade is findable via the About Kitchen Table Math link.
So I decided to teach my child fractions, not knowing that 4th-grade fractions are the math cliff; that's where all the kids plummet off the ledge to the rocky math shoals below. Ignorance being bliss, I sallied forth .... and I discovered right away that teaching fractions is not easy, especially when you had a mediocre education in math yourself. (I still remember feeling enthralled when I read H. Wu saying a fraction was a number! And I vividly recall Carolyn writing a post or comment quoting a boy who said a fraction was a division problem he didn't have to do.)
That was the genesis of kitchen table math: I needed help teaching Chris fractions. (Carolyn Johnston -- who co-founded the blog with me -- was in the same boat, except she happened to be a mathematician, so she did the rowing.)
Within a few days of discovering that I was not an elementary school math teacher, I had in my hands a copy of Wayne Wickelgren's Math Coach, and it was from Wickelgren that I learned that teaching algebra 1 in the 9th grade is not one of the 10 Commandments. After that my goal was to get Chris into the 8th-grade algebra class, which I did, but given how horrifically bad the teaching was in 7th and 8th grades, and how horrifically over-accelerated the curriculum was, that was probably the wrong way to go, in hindsight.
(On the old blog we used to call that class the Death March to Algebra, which should give you young 'uns some idea.)
Then again, the other kids who dropped out of the accelerated class fared poorly in the non-accelerated class, too. I was then in close contact with a mom who had been fighting the math wars for years; by the time her daughter was in 6th grade, she already had an appointment with the superintendent to discuss the situation.
Ed and I didn't make it to the superintendent's office till 8th grade.
(Have I mentioned our new superintendent isn't panning out, either?)
The other mom finally gave up the ghost. The daughter was desperate to get out of the accelerated class and her mom finally consented, and then promptly discovered that the kids who had moved down were struggling in the new class, too.
So the real hindsight question is: better to learn next to nothing in the accelerated class or the non-accelerated class?
I probably can't answer that, and having Chris take algebra in the 8th grade meant that he had me re-teaching nearly every concept, doing all of his homework sets every night myself (the publisher wouldn't sell me the Teacher Edition), and going over all of his homework and having him re-do problems he'd missed. I don't think I would have done that with Chris in 9th grade, especially not since he had by then enrolled in Hogwarts.
So, given the realities of an unreal situation, our decision to keep him in the accelerated track was either the right decision or 6 of one, half dozen of another. Plus, think of the grit!
(Which reminds me: I don't think I've told you Chris's story about unit multipliers. Unit multipliers were another revelation for me, writing the first kitchen table math. Will get to that later.)
So there I was, sitting at the
Without knowing a lot of math myself, and without hiring tutors.
The 5th-grade teachers were warm and on-board for the quest, and one of them told Ed and me that the middle school would not move Chris no matter how well-prepared he was. (She was right about that.) If we wanted him moved, she needed to move him up then.
So she did.
He wasn't ready. We needed the summer to work on math so he could move up come fall, a plan that made sense and had the potential, at least, to work beautifully. But, again, my extremely well-funded, nominally high-performing suburban school district does not concern itself with the fates of individual children. There will always be 10-year olds, and they will always score better on the state tests than underprivileged black and Hispanic children living in the city. So good enough.
Sometime during the move-up period I discovered how my district was handling acceleration.
My district was handling acceleration by having the 4th grade kids skip the entire 5th-grade textbook and, when they started 5th grade, go straight to the 6th-grade book, without telling the parents. All the parents knew was that suddenly their mathematically talented kids were struggling in math--for no obvious reason they could see--so they hired tutors. (I learned about the tutors from a math-teacher dad in town who told me the 5th-grade accelerated class was a disaster.)
Even without knowing a lot about math, I knew that skipping an entire year's worth of material was a terrible idea, so I went to talk to the interim principal about it.
He told me I was wrong. The 5th grade kids hadn't skipped an entire book, he said. Yes they did, I said. No they didn't, he said.
A couple of days later he called me in to his office and said, "You're right. They skipped an entire book."
Then he told me the class was a disaster, too. He didn't actually use the word "disaster." He used the nonverbals. His wife was a high-school math teacher, and he was obviously aghast.
Which brings me to the present.
I would like to know how my district is handling acceleration now that we have engageny math.
I would like to know, but I don't know. Finding out is going to take a lot of badgering of yon superintendent.
Fortunately, I'm good at that.
Funny how you never hear "badgering the superintendent for a straight answer" mentioned as a 21st century skill.