Monday, September 07, 2015

It's Easier To Dumb Everyone Down

Many school districts, including my own, are making it harder and harder for students to accelerate their math instruction--and they're doing so under the guise of Common Core:
The San Francisco Unified School District made the news recently when they decided to eliminate first-year algebra for eighth graders entirely. Algebra will now be offered only as a high school course in that school district.

The decision is not without controversy and many parents have been protesting, saying that it limits the choices qualified students may have. The other side of the argument is that too many students who were unprepared to take algebra in eighth grade were pushed to take it, resulting in many students failing the course.

Of course it is a mistake to allow students to take algebra if they are not mathematically prepared. Students need to have mastery of fractions, percentages, decimals, ratios, and negative numbers and to be able to solve a variety of word problems. But if a student is qualified to take algebra in eighth grade and would do well in it, why not give the student that choice?

But a growing trend among school districts these days is to limit (or as in SFUSD, eliminate entirely) those choices under the guise that Common Core doesn’t encourage acceleration. Districts prefer and think it better that students take algebra starting in high school. Common Core, however, defines four pathways that may be taken, one of which allows for taking algebra earlier than ninth grade...

I recall a person from the school district office, who I will call Sally, talking to a group of us math teachers in advance of a “math night” to be held for parents to explain the District’s policy on “compacted” math pathways.  Sally described how the District was phasing out the “accelerated math” in which qualified students in eighth grade — and even some in seventh grade — were allowed to take Algebra 1.

She did say they were working on pathways for those students who may be “really, truly” gifted and for whom algebra in seventh or eighth grade may be appropriate. This was likely not going to sit well with some parents, she said.

“There’s been a lot of parent pushback,” she sighed. “I imagine we’ll have the usual Debbie Downers and Negative Nancies in the audience on ‘math night’. But I want to make two things clear: that there’s no shame in taking Grade 8 math; under Common Core it’s equivalent to the traditional Algebra 1.” (This is debatable based on what I’ve observed in Grade 8 math classes) “And secondly, placement in eighth grade Algebra 1 will be more difficult. Fewer students will qualify – Common Core is very challenging.”

This all sounds plausible if you believe that Common Core gets into “deeper learning”. But what it really means is that students will now get a smattering of algebra in eighth grade, and the rest of it in ninth, thus taking two years to do what used to be done in one – and leaving some topics left out. Also, it raises the question that if Common Core algebra is so much deeper than a traditional algebra course, why is the traditional algebra course reserved for an elite corps of eighth grade students?
Why, do you think, certain people want to limit the amount of math a student can take?  A teacher I know once told me, without any trace of irony or joking, that he thinks an advantage of Common Core is that it will give all students a strong base of understanding and hence will help close the so-called achievement gap (this assumes that you believe the "critical thinking" offal that's tilled into soil by CC adherents).  Retarding the achievement of the best math students is not the solution to the achievement gap, and it kind of frightens me that that isn't obvious to absolutely everyone, especially to a math teacher.


Anonymous said...

But retarding the achievements of the best students WILL close the achievement gap. The ceiling will be lowered and the difference between the high and low will be less. As a math teacher, this should be obvious. Sarcam ends.

According to my kid's district, Common Core requires that the kids take group tests.

Ellen K said...

During a recent required planning period meeting (grrr) I discovered Common Core is now under another name-5E. On the surface it's all happy happy-but it is still the same backwards manipulation of teaching. LET US TEACH. Stop inventing new games with new names and LEAVE US ALONE> it's just like Global Warming became Climate Change. So so so tired of this.