Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite comments of '14, cont: ChrisN, lgm, Anonymous, Auntie Ann

On The Finnish Fallacy: drawing the wrong lessons from our favorite international comparison:

ChrisN said...
He also doesn't mention that Finnish teaching methods are for the most part very traditional. Teacher talk, textbooks, students working individually. Here's a link to a "study" from last year on Finnish methods of teaching maths, published in an academic journal. It concludes that because such teaching methods are (apparently a priori) "wrong", they cannot have any influence on Finnish attainment in maths, which must "therefore" be down to cultural factors only!

lgm said...
I also agree the US Students should go out in all but torrential rain/hurricane weather for recess, but when I brought it up at the PTA I was laughed out of the room. The issue is the significant number of parents/caregivers who will not provide their children with appropriate clothing. Unlike yesteryear, when kids would layer up and had a pair of rainboots/snowboots with growing room, and grandma would knit them gloves & hat, it is considered elitist to expect them to go outside with anything less than the wealthiest child is if the donors aren't providing North Face etc. then equity demands that we provide a recess that all can participate in.
I kid you not.

Anonymous said...
I talked to a young German woman today who is working in the US as an au pair for a homeschooling family this year.

She said she considered coming to the US as an exchange student in high school, but would have been held back a year once she returned to school in Germany. It made more sense to take the year off after abitur.

The suckitude of US public schools vs European schools is not amenable to a quick fix that can be delivered by a school committee, an expensive curriculum plan, or a for-profit charter scheme.

Auntie Ann said...
The school I grew up in had a cloak room attached to every classroom for hanging up coats and taking off boots. I doubt schools are being built that way anymore, which means the mess of recess either ends up all over the hall or in the classroom.

Favorite comments of '14, cont: gasstationwithoutpumps, Anonymous, and lgm

On The Advocacy Gap:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...
Actually, homeschooling took less effort than managing school did. There was almost as much effort involved in getting our son to do his work, but the work was actual learning rather than busywork, and we could tailor assignments and essay prompts to fit his quirks, rather than having to struggle with a one-size-fits-none assignment.

Advocacy wasn't all that hard at the schools—there wasn't anything available to get, so we were doing a lot of after-schooling. Switching to home-schooling kept the after-school stuff and eliminated most of the way-below-level stuff that the schools wanted him to do.

Anonymous said...
My son was in school for two years. He skipped from 4th to 6th on entry, with two additional years of math acceleration (so he was doing Algebra I) and then he skipped from 6th to 8th the next year. This was a small private school that was truly doing its best to accommodate him.

What we found was that even with the two skips, there was no cognitive challenge. The only challenges were related to executive functioning--and even those were few and far between. The only placement that was remotely appropriate was math--and even that was a problem because it was taught entirely from a procedural standpoint. I don't mind procedures, but I also want my kids to learn the reasoning. So the second year, we did an independent study sanctioned by the school for math, which worked out well, but also meant we were back to homeschooling in that subject.

Actually, we're back to homeschooling everything now. It is astounding to me that he can work half the time and do ten times the work that was required at the school using resources that are in many cases several grade levels above what the school was using.

We are much happier homeschooling. Actually, I'm not sure how a traditional school would truly accommodate a student like my son (and I'm sure there are many out there like him). He would do best in classes where the input is upper high school or college level (so 4-6 years above chronological age), where the output expectations are high school level (maybe 3-5 years ahead of age), and the executive function demands are age appropriate. Grade skips can't accomplish this, and even a gifted program won't be able to accomplish this without a lot of differentiation.

lgm said...
Advocacy became fruitless when NCLB and full inclusion began. Enrichment was banned in the classroom. Children who were fast finishers quickly learned to work on their own projects....a book at their appropriate level, singapore math problems, practicing their instrument ...anything to get away from the noise and commotion of the fully included elementary classroom. The richer people left, to private or homeschool. The Superintendent of a nearby district put his 12 yr old in community college. Thankfully for me, honors level was still available....enough rich people left that their slots became available.
October 6, 2014 at 6:13 PM  

Favorite comments of '14, cont: Barry Garelick

On So Katharine Beals Has This Idea for Language Arts Class...:

Barry Garelick said...
Maybe we can make a video about traditional math and its effectiveness and sneak it in to Gates' workout room so he can view it while on his treadmill. That may be the next big thing that Gates wants to see implemented in the schools!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favorite comments of '14: GoogleMaster, Hainish, Auntie Ann, and Anonymous

On Math problems of the week: more Common Core-inspired math problems:

GoogleMaster said...
The answer to question 1 is given directly in the text. Mom bought a 16 ounce package of ten hot dogs.

Question 5 cannot be answered without additional background information that some fourth-graders may not have:
a) what is a smore?
b) what are the ingredients to a smore?

To test these questions, you can translate all of the food items to Hungarian or even nonsense words.

Hainish said...
It seems that anyone can be "inspired" by common core, in various ways.

Auntie Ann said...
There is absolutely nothing even remotely challenging in that problem, and most of it you can do with a quick glance. The only thing you have to remember is to count Wendy in and know that there are 6 kids. The addition is the only thing you need to write down your work for. Since the items add up to $12.99, subtracting to get the change is trivial. Question 6 is stupid; all it is doing is asking you to multiply 6 x 2.

The problem takes about 5 times longer to read than it does to solve, and the math content is negligible.

It also could be criticized, I suppose for not telling the student which ingredients go into making s'mores. There must be kids out there who have no idea what a s'more is--I'm thinking about urban kids and kids in immigrant families.

Anonymous said...
The figurative language really struck me for its potential to confound the assessment of math skills. The roasting sticks "sprouted" hot dogs and "hovered" over the fire -- I could envision many 4th graders, with language-based learning differences or not, puzzling hard over what that means for what got cooked and when.

Favorite comments of '14, cont: Auntie Ann and Deirdre Mundy

On Math problems of the week: Common Core word problems from New York State:

Auntie Ann said...
The section with this problem starts at page 3.C.10, and the problem itself is on page 3.C.13:

Engage NY, Math, Grade 4 complete

It clearly shows that they want the kids to draw circles. Not 72 of them, but 7 to represent the tens, and another 2 to represent the ones. With regrouping, you are likely to draw slightly more than that. I ran through the problem as exampled, and drew 6 circles to represent each 24, (18 circles total), then grouped 10 of the ones, crossed them out, and drew another 10-circle. So, doing the problem took me 19 circles.

I did Singapore with our kid, and I don't remember it ever asking the kid to draw disks to answer the question. Bars, yes; disks, no. The text would use drawings of disks for explanation, and the instructor would use disks or other representations during the instruction phase, and the workbook might represent the problem with disks; but when it was time to actually do the numbers in the workbook, I don't remember the kid actually having to take the time to draw circle after circle.

Deirdre Mundy said...
Hey, since many schools no longer teach handwriting, math class has to pick up the fine-motor slack! So...drawing circles is just handwriting practice with a veneer of math!

Favorite comments of '14, cont: R Craigen and Anonymous

On Will damning studies reform the reformers?

R. Craigen said...
In answer to your questions, maybe this means that reformers don't really believe in discovery learning. After all, they tried this, we discovered it didn't work ... and they didn't learn.

Anonymous said...
There might be an opportunity for that discussion about this study in the comments section:

I'm very interested in hearing the author's perspective (she was a past president of a National Council of Math Teachers).

Monday, December 29, 2014

Favorite comments of '14, cont: R. Craigen

On Conversations on the Rifle Range 6: Grant’s Tomb and the Benefits of Boredom

R. Craigen said...
Concerning squaring and "rooting" as inverse functions, it is critical that this sort of thing be familiar to students in some form before they begin calculus because much in that course hinges upon elaborations upon that idea, or complex instances of it.

One needn't have a sophisticated understanding of inverse functions, but an operational comfort with them. Like that of the student Matt here, who thinks about the radical sign disappearing when you square.

That's about the level I need calculus students to understand things when they enter my class. What is a log function? I want them to understand that ln (e^x) = x and e^(ln x) = x when defined. From here we can work another useful version: y = ln x is equivalent to x = e^y, and to get comfortable switching between the two for convenience. For all of this it is best that they arrive in my class with a notion of inverse functions already intact. Unfortunately, few do, so I have to go to first principles with them -- and it's just too much to take in all at once. Things should be done in order, and students need time to master basics before moving up a rung on the ladder of abstraction.

Favorite comments of '14: Watanabe Manabu

On Why do journalists stink at math education news?

Watanabe Manabu said...

I am a Japanese and have read the NY Times article "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?", which discusses a lot about Japan.

However, I have to say that Ms. Green's account of Japanese education is very misleading, as pointed out also by Dr. Tom Loveless in the Brown Center Chalkboard blog.

So I wrote her a letter and put it in my blog:

I would like to correct misunderstanding, because it is very sad to see that many people are discussing on the basis of the misleading report.

Thank you.

Favorite comments of '14, cont: ChemProf, Anonymous and FedUpMom

On Processing information vs. Cutting and Pasting, II:  

ChemProf said...
My husband is a programmer, and he keeps saying that age discrimination keeps kicking in about five years older than him (he's now in his early 40's). But it keeps moving along with him, because the young folks aren't as computer literate as Gen Ex -- too much high level stuff, not enough time in the guts of the machine.

Anonymous said...
High school kids all think they know so much about "technology." If I ask one if they know what a DOS prompt is, I get blank stares. When my own son decided to teach me HTML, we were five minutes into it when I exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, it's nothing but Wordstar!" "Wordstar?" said my son, "What's that?"
FedUpMom said...

I wonder if some of the problem with young programmers is related to fuzzy math and its contempt for algorithms. Programs, of course, are all about algorithms, and clear algorithm design is essential.

What I see in the efforts of some young programmers who have worked on GrammarTrainer is almost a guess-and-check approach; that is, they just keep throwing code at it until the program sort of seems to work. The result is a program totally cluttered up with, for instance, five different variables all holding the same basic information; three different chunks of code for inputting data files, only one of which (the most ridiculous one, reading data from the internet) is used; and large hunks of what I call "zombie code", that is, code that is never actually referenced by the program.

I wonder if our crummy math teaching is resulting in young people who don't understand logic and algorithms.

From a programmer's point of view, the demands of the program are actually quite simple (read some input, get responses from the user, respond to the responses), and the program design should be simple and clear too.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Favorite comments of '14, cont: Anonymous and ChemProf

On What students lose when they stop graphing by hand:    

Anonymous said...
I was let go from my adjunct position at a certain college when I refused to require students to use a graphing calculator. I also required them to graph by hand. The department chair said it was department policy to use graphing calculators and my refusal was tantamount to asking students to solve math problems without a pencil, and insubordination to boot.

ChemProf said...
That's sad. I find even using basic graphing calculators means that students have less of a grasp of order of operations, because they can just type in the whole thing and hit "execute," rather than executing each operation individually.

Favorite comments of '14, cont: oldandrew, Cranberry, and FedUpMom

On High stakes testing in the very best sense:

oldandrew said...
I can't resist commenting that no part of the curriculum is under more continual threat here in England than A-levels. They are absolutely hated by the educational establishment who would much rather have a broader diploma, perhaps including more vocational elements, than have A-levels as the "gold standard" for university admission. Only the politicians have saved them for this long.

Cranberry said...
The German Abitur includes the grades earned in the last two years of high school (Gymnasium.) Thus, it does include classwork; there is also a separate grade awarded each term for oral participation in class. So teacher-pleasing behavior and homework completion are significant components of the Abitur.

Theodore Dalrympole pointed out in 2005 that the French Bac's rigor has been significantly diluted: French educational certificates have undergone the same grade inflation as British ones: for example, the proportion of children who pass their bac nowadays is more than five times what it was in 1970. In other words, the bac is not the guarantee of ability and accomplishment that it once was, and employers must make their choices on other grounds than a debased certification..

FedUpMom said...
I'm not happy with any system that closes doors for people based on their performance in adolescence. Lots of people, including very bright people, have a troubled adolescence. They need to have an on-ramp somewhere, especially in a society like ours where a college degree has become a basic requirement for almost any job.

Favorite comments of '14, cont: Jaime H and Deirdre Mundy

On Common Core Math: Is it wrong to want to know which way is right?

Jaime H said...
This is my favorite quote from Professor W. Stephen Wilson

“There will always be people who believe that you do not understand mathematics if you cannot write a coherent essay about how you solved a problem, thus driving future STEM students away from mathematics at an early age. A fairness doctrine would require English language arts (ELA) students to write essays about the standard algorithms, thus also driving students away from ELA at an early age. The ability to communicate is NOT essential to understanding mathematics. There will always be people who think that you must be able to solve problems in multiple ways. This is probably similar to thinking that it is important to teach creativity in mathematics in elementary school, as if such a thing were possible. Forget creativity; the truly rare student is the one who can solve straightforward problems in a straightforward way.”

Deirdre Mundy said...
When I was young, teachers always said that math was a universal language--- you could sit down with someone from another country and do math together, even if you didn't speak each other's language.

How is math a universal language if you have to write an essay on every concept?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Favorite comments of '14: cranberry, Hainish, Auntie Ann, Anonymous, lgm

On Should kids have homework? Should parents help?

cranberry said...
Homework should not be graded. That would remove the temptation to meddle. Tracking should be determined on the basis of work completed in class ONLY.

My sympathy for the NYT columnist is nonexistant. She's a cheater, and she's raising her child to cheat.
Hainish said...
The problem with saying that "parents should help" is that many students don't _have_ parents who can or will help them. It's the Matthew effect in action.

(I'm rather glad the literature PhD got a poor score on "her" essay, whatever else it may say about the quality of the assignment. Why should an ordinary middle schooler have to compete with *her*?)
Auntie Ann said...
This depends on lots of things. Near the end of school this year, our 6th grader was doing volumes and surface area of prisms and cylinders. The final project was the following:

Pick an object

Measure it and determine the surface area and volume

If you were to pack it in a triangular prism, how big should the prism be? Give dimensions, surface area and volume.

If you were to pack it in a cylinder, give dimensions, surface area and volume.

Based on your calculations, which box should you use?

(So far so good, I guess, but the final step was...)

Build the box.


I let him work on the box for a while, in case he could do it quickly. After an hour of frustration with packing tape, I took over and did it myself.

If the homework is as dumb and time consuming at that, I have no trouble stepping in.
Anonymous said...
I found that there were two main reasons I had to help with homework. The first was because the teacher had not taught what needed to be taught for the kid to be successful with the assignment. The second was when the assignment was developmentally inappropriate from an executive function perspective. There were certain classes where I very rarely had to help and certain ones where I had to reteach (using the term *re*teach is really giving the teacher too much credit) the material every single day. It had nothing to do with how difficult the material was and everything to do with teaching and appropriateness of assignments.
lgm said...
Every time I had to help was because someone in the classroom failed to maintain order or teach the material.

What I am tired of is all the parents who write their child's papers just so they can get into honors English. Thanks people. My kid now doesn't get to learn because your kid is struggling so much, despite the tutoring, that the instruction and discussion is dragged down By Friday, the teacher gets mad, accuses everyone of not reading the assignments, and hands out more essays as punishment, thinking the kids will have to read more closely to get the essays done. Instead, you do it for him. Thanks. We were going to spend part of the weekend at orchestra, and the rest with some family time. You cancelled that, due to your posing and my decision to let my kid learn.
Anonymous said...
Build the box? My solution for that is a tersely worded note that we don't have the supplies to do ridiculous homework assignments.

Funnily enough, the teachers never know what to say to that.

Favorite comments of '14: Auntie Ann, R Craigen, lgm, and Anonymous

On Squandering STEM by broadening its appeal:

Auntie Ann said...
Our school changed its science fair this year from: everyone in grades 5-8 has to do an actual experiment, to: you can do an experiment if you want...or you can make a rube goldberg machine...or some sort of robot...or research some environmental issue...or...something. This year they've also connected it to an art exhibit to make it the full STEAM experience.

We've always taken the science fair seriously as the only time kids are actually supposed to do a research project and the only serious paper they write all year. Unfortunately, the rubric for the paper calls for only 30 sentences in total (6 5-sentence paragraphs), and kids who did the minimum still got the same grade as our kid, who did the whole research paper experience. It gets a bit discouraging. The kids who did rube goldberg machines had nothing to write a paper about, so they had to write a biography of Rube Goldberg. Typical experiments include such favorites as: which type of perfume lasts longer, alcohol or oil based? Our fave: Will there be pesto after the apocalypse? (the kid put basil plants in the oven and in the microwave to see if they could survive.) And the perennial: Do plants grow better when watered?

The favorite experiment we did was the first one, several years ago: if you drop a soda can, how long do you have to wait before you can open it safely? (Answer: after a minute, you're probably in the clear, unless it is a cold 7-Up--you should wait another half minute for that.)

R. Craigen said...
Hi Ann. Brings back memories. When my son was in Grade 4 in a Fresno CA school he asked me if he could do a science fair project about computers. So I taught him binary arithmetic and explained how a half-adder works. We were doing to build an adder out of two linked half-adder arrays, starting from transistors. Turns out it was a bad idea because of a little practical problem my tiny theoretical brain had trouble with: current leakage. Reading about how to solve this I realised I was a bit over my head in the electronics. I was explaining the issue to Chris one afternoon and he lay there obviously not paying much attention and suddenly he said, "Dad, what I really want to know is how a computer remembers stuff..." Brilliant! I explained flip-flops (not the shoes) in a minute, and said, "Let's bypass the current leakage problem and just by an array of NAND logic gates. (Or was it EOR? I forget -- either will do). I demonstrated how to build one, and he built 8 -- thus producing a one-byte memory bank. Then we bought a press-button, an array of 8 toggle-switches, and 8 LED lights. Chris largely wired the rest himself, which we conceived together: the LEDs would display whatever was in the memory array. You could set the toggles to form 8 bits of "input", and then by pressing the button, it is transferred to memory, as shown by the LEDs. You can repeat indefinitely.

Being interested in the project, he did reading of his own and produced a fantastic writeup, and the little talker could explain the project from one end to the other, and I knew he was a shoe-in for top prize.

On the day of competition the morning is spent with kids wandering around looking at each other's displays. His attracted a lot of attention. Since we'd used a friction-grip breadboard, you could wire and rewire it by hand with no special equipment. The older boys went "Cool!" and started playing with the wiring. Chris patiently rewired it so it would work again three times in the morning. Then when they reconvened for judging in the afternoon, he realised to his horror that someone had been playing with the wiring over lunch hour and it was completely disfunctional. With judges on top of him he explained how it WOULD work if it were wired properly.

He got a silver ribbon. Oh well.

The kid who won top prize and went on to divisionals was a Grade 7 student who had made a working hovercraft out of a leaf blower.

lgm said...
I wish I had this problem. My district, unlike every district arround it, including Title 1 districts, doesn't bother with anything nonrequired. Science Fair? We don't participate inthe County League. Math Club? We don't participate in the area League. AP Chem? Nope. AP Physics? Nope. Statistics? Nope. We don't have any classes or clubs to put the interested kids into, much less the disinterested. And that is why I am against local control.

Anonymous said...
lgm: Local control does have its drawbacks. My small town voted 3 times against joining the multi-town union HS being built in a neighboring town. The "againsts" were of the sentiment that "our HS was good enough for my great-granddad and my kids, so it's good enough for my grandkids". As predicted by the supporters, when the new HS opened (my sophomore year)we lost several good HS teachers to it and couldn't replace them with the same quality. The school joined another union district after I graduated, but it wasn't and still isn't as good a school as the union the town refused. Instead of town HS of 125 kids or less, the new schools had about 600, so teachers could teach only their specialty (our sci teacher had to teach 4 sciences) and the school could offer more classes, AP classes,more vocational classes and more extracurriculars.

Favorite comments of '14: Auntie Ann, SteveH, Wayne Bishop, Barry Garelick, Gerald Rising, Anonymous, Crimson Wife and ChemProf

On Conversations on the Rifle Range, I: Not Your Mother’s Algebra 1 and the Guy Who Really Knows:

Auntie Ann said...
I hate the relevance argument. Relevance is almost synonymous with making sure students stay focused on their own little worlds and on their own navels. The point of *education* is to broaden horizons and give students experiences outside their comfort zones. "Relevance" ends with balkanization of education into interest-group based teaching, and embraces the attitude that the only thing that matters is the now--the past is never relevant.

It also amazes me that people can't see the similarities between the way we train for athletics and the way we train in academics. Tennis players will stand on the court for an hour practicing their serve, bucket after bucket; basketball players on the free-throw line putting up shot after shot; but apply that same sort of practice to academics--especially math--and educators recoil in horror. Why do we accept drills in sports and talk about having to work on muscle memory, but find it horrific to drill in academics and work on one's actual memory? Why do people understand without questioning that athletes need to practice basic skills for years in order to get good, but don't apply the same practices to learning academic skills?

SteveH said...
I'm waiting for our middle school to go backwards in math because of CC. It's really is up to parents to fight back, but it would be an ugly battle. K-8 educators would have to admit that they are fundamentally wrong, and they are.

I've also talked about the comparison to sports, music, and dance. Their assumption is that there is something different about academics. They claim that one can pass math with only a rote understanding. That's not true, and in addition, educators haven't shown any success in the last two decades with their "Think System" approach. This is nothing new with the Common Core. "Traditional" math has been gone so long that they have to make up other scapegoats. BTW, our high school put on an extraordinary production of The Music Man this year built entirely on skills and a lot of practice and hard work.

The problem is that many educators are flat-out wrong in their beliefs. That is not an easy or comfortable thing to talk about or change. Ironically, they were directly taught those beliefs.

Wayne Bishop said...
We drill in athletics and music because we consider them important as opposed to mathematics or English composition. When these decision-makers start rolling the dice at gametime to see who is going to be quarterback, linebacker, and the like for the evening and they do the same for singing the leads in each performance of the school musicals, we will know that they are valued equally.

Auntie Ann said...
Someone should compile a list of districts which are using the CC as an excuse to eliminate advanced math tracking. I know Santa Monica CA is.

SteveH said...
I just checked again and saw that our middle school still uses Glencoe's Algebra 1 text. They haven't moved down a level to their "Concepts and Applications" textbook, both, of course, the publisher claims are Common Core compatible. So, if schools use CC as an excuse to lower expectations, something else is going on. Ask Glencoe if their "Concepts and Applications" teaches more understanding than their Algebra 1 textbook and see what they say. Will they recommend their C&A over Algebra 1 for those going on in STEM? Do STEM student not need as much understanding?

My view is that educators don't want to face the fact that what they use in the lower grades (probably Everyday Math) is not doing the job - systemically. They want to assume that the reason so many kids struggle with real algebra in 8th grade is because they are not ready yet. It can't be due to a lack of all that understanding that EM supposedly provided. It can't be the teachers probably hated math in school. It can't be due to the full inclusion techniques they use. It must be the kids.

So now kids have to be "really truly" gifted, as Barry was told.

"... they are working on pathways for those students who may “really truly” be gifted"

However, most school have (since almost forever) used a sixth grade test and/or teacher evaluation for deciding which students are prepared for a faster track to algebra 1 in 8th grade. Why would a school dump algebra in 8th grade completely (apparently) and then talk only about finding some new path for truly gifted students?

Clearly, these educators lack any-century critical thinking STEM skills. In fact, they can't see that the Common Core does not support STEM development in K-8 by definition. Of course kids will have to be truly gifted to be ready for algebra in 8th grade with that kind of K-6 education. And when they see that some kids are prepared (via skill help at home or with tutoring), for algebra, they will just thing that it must be IQ.

Educators don't like separating kids and acceleration in K-6, but if it's done at home and they can't see it, then they can just call those kids "really truly" gifted. That's what they think of my son. Unfortunately, they never ask me about all of the skill work I did when he was in K-6.

We have a huge systemic educational flaw here and educators cannot see it because they are trapped in their little pedagogical and philosophical box.

SteveH said...
Barry, will you talk about what these other pathways are? I've heard of pathways where they expect students to double up math in high school. My reaction was that they were letting the teachers and pedagogy off the hook in K-6, but putting the entire onus on students in high school.

Barry Garelick said...
SteveH: If you don't get on the "truly gifted" pathway in grade 7 or 8 (by virtue of various "assessments"), then students may "double up" courses in high school, or take them in summer school.

Gerald Rising said...
Another thoughtful commentary, Barry.

If you set aside all the educational claptrap this woman offered, the one specific move that I consider serious is the break-up of the long-standing acceleration program by eliminating the algebra course in grade 8 for bright students.

I have long been a critic of the standard high school program for better students, I consider this tampering with that program at its outset typical of the way things are done in local school districts. I will bet that no senior high teacher was involved with this, but it will affect their program all the way to grade 12.

Yes, the usual lead up to AP calculus has never been great, the 7-12 program simply: grade 7: 7-8 combined, 8: algebra 1, 9: geometry, 10: algebra 2, 11: the usual senior course and then in 12: AP calc. The idea that teaching courses a year early addresses bright kids' needs is nonsense, but still the whole program should be rethought before the first year is eliminated.

What might well happen, given this early change, is that much content will be addressed superficially later on in order to free up grade 12 for AP.

Note: Despite what I have said here, I have serious reservations about AP calc for bright kids as 90% of them then simply repeat it in college for an easy A. But that calls for changing the AP course, not forcing it out or messing up the lead-in program.

And I cannot resist suggesting that you call attention in your commentary to Ray's and my LETTERS book. Gerry

Anonymous said...
GR, you should know your texts are still quietly being used by some teachers that really know math. As a parent, I thank you.

Barry Garelick said...
Thanks for the comment, Gerry. While not outright eliminating Algebra 1 for bright 8th graders, the school district is making it tougher for students to prove their "brightness". What this means is that some students who would have qualified for Algebra 1 under the previous criteria of 'brightness' will now be excluded under the new definition/criteria which, on its face, seems arbitrary.

And you are correct that I am remiss in not mentioning your great book:"Letters to a Young Math Teacher" (

And long-overdue thanks to Gerry who upon reading the blog entries for Huck Finn, passed them on to his publisher who agreed that they should be published in book form.

Auntie Ann said...
I wonder if the narrowing of the criteria for getting into 8th grade algebra will leave too few kids in the class, and allow the school to say that the low demand does not warrant the teacher and classroom time, allowing them to cancel it outright.
Crimson Wife said...
I haven't been able to get a straight answer from my district as to whether they would continue to offer a full algebra 1 course in middle school after the phasein to CCSS. Right now 75% of students take algebra 1 prior to 9th and 20% take geometry. I know they've been having issues with students failing the end-of-course exam and having to repeat algebra 1 in 9th. So I do agree that too many kids are currently pushed into 8th grade algebra. But the solution to that is to simply do a better job in placing students appropriately, NOT eliminating middle school algebra!

Not that many students who take algebra 1 in 7th actually wind up taking the post-AP math course in 12th. Most take AP Calc in 11th and then AP Stats in 12th. So while I do believe there should be a way for the most STEM-loving kids to take algebra 1 in 7th leading up to post-AP math in 12th, we're talking maybe 20 kids out of 500+ in the grade.

Barry Garelick said...
Most of the students in the Algebra I class in the middle school where I taught were 8th graders; there were very few 7th graders. The majority of the students handled the course well, so making the placement harder would eliminate the possibility for students who probably could handle it.

ChemProf said...
I definitely see my district phasing out 8th grade algebra. The middle school doesn't want to do it in part because they don't want any tracking or honors sections, and the high school would rather everyone came in at the same level. The high school teachers in my district unfortunately are more ES-like, and many of them resent the need to offer honors tracks, which they say are demanded by "wealthy parents."

I went to my district high school a million years ago. Back then, there were two sections of honors and everyone in honors took AP for the rare classes where it was offered. Now they offer 10 sections of honors but only two of AP when it is offered. So basically modern honors is what we called College Prep.

SteveH said...
The problem with CC is not about backing off on pushing too many kids into algebra 1 in 8th grade, but about backing off so much that algebra in 8th grade is eliminated except for the "truly gifted".

It was only a few years ago that we parents forced the middle school to eliminate the complete curriculum gap for those who managed to survive MathLand in K-6 and wanted to be properly prepared for geometry as a freshman. Now that algebra 1 in 8th grade exists - still a difficult goal because of Everyday Math, there is serious concern of backtracking to the lower CC standards ... for ALL students. There is a big threat that the lower schools will dump the problem on the high school, where the only solution is to force students to double up or take summer classes.

SteveH said...
Our lower schools drink from the K-8 Kool-Aid cup, but our high school tries to get everyone to take at least one AP class. It's quite a difference of opinion. Seventh and eighth grades are a battle ground. The teachers are required to be certified in the subjects they teach (state law), but there is still a dominant fuzzy view of education. The middle school now separates kids in math and language because students and parents expect to be able to get to second year honors classes in those subjects, but everything else is still left-over full inclusion from the lower grades.