Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Math Finally Explained!

SwitchedOnMom in her blog, The More Child, which focuses on giftedness and teaching advanced and AP courses, has this to say to Jay Mathews regarding pushing the math curriculum in high schools:

Jay Mathews, as they say, has some “’splaining ” to do. From his column in today’s Washington Post.

Nobody writing about schools has been a bigger supporter of getting more students into eighth-grade algebra than I have been. I wrote a two-part series for the front page six years ago that pointed out how important it is to be able to handle algebra’s abstractions and unknown quantities before starting high school. I have argued that we should rate middle schools by the percentage of students who complete Algebra I by eighth grade.

Now, because of a startling study being released today, I am having second thoughts.

Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, has looked at the worst math students, those scoring in the bottom 10th on the National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth-grade test. He discovered that 28.6 percent of them — let me make that clear: nearly three out of every 10 — were enrolled in first-year algebra, geometry or second-year algebra. Almost all were grossly misplaced, probably because of the push to get kids into algebra sooner.

For more on the subject, read her post titled, "Just Say No to Accelerated Math", or the recent post by blogger Frizzle titled, "Algebra and AP - No, not for everyone".


fedupindcss said...

Many moons ago, Lynn Grant pushed for 8th grade Algebra because there was a "study" that showed students who took Algebra in 8th grade did better in math in high school. No clue where this study came from, but that was all it took--presto, all 8th graders were in Algebra.

The primary problem here is that math is one of those things that needs personalized instruction, and that you must master before moving on. Getting a "C" is not mastery, yet that is all you need to suddenly be declared ready.

I just really don't know what to say, except if you have a child in middle school now, be very afraid.

Cerebration said...

Also, Johnny Brown came up with the reasoning that people who at least take through Algebra 2 in high school make more money. Duh! That would be true for accountants, engineers, actuaries, CFOs - but really, does it matter to you if your auto mechanic or plumber took Alg 2 in high school? How about artists, nurses, day care workers?

Using Brown's reasoning, we should all take Constitutional Law in high school too, because lawyers make more money.

Paula Caldarella said...

Prior to 2 years ago, when did Algebra in 8th grade disappear? I was in DCSS in 8th grade and we took Algebra in 8th grade.

Cerebration said...

No - not everyone. That was the accelerated track - as far as I know.

Paula Caldarella said...

Some 30 years ago all 8th graders took Algebra. Of course 8th grade was in High School as well. We took Geometry in 9th and Algebra II in 10th.

Ella Smith said...

The problem I saw was the students did not have a good background in Alg. 1. In middle school they past with a grade in the low 70 and did not have the certified high school math teachers. Students got to high school and were lost. I did Student Support Team for awhile and many students got lost because they got a poor Alg. I background.

However, I do not think the path itself was bad. It was the lack of mastery that was the problem. Students were past without the understanding or skills and then could not make it through Geometry and Alg. II.

My son is a Soph. He had Advanced. Geometry and Advanced Alg. II as a Freshman and now is is some kind of Calculus class. Obviously he learned basis Alg. I skills while taking Alg. I his second semester at Henderson Middle School.

I think it depends on the child. All children are not as good in math as my son. By the way he did not get his math skills from his mother. I did not understand anything the guy was saying about new math. I was lost.

Some TECH professors feel the old track is better for students good in math. The new track is better for many other students. I am not an expert in math so I am only glad my son is on the old track right now.

Cerebration said...

What did you take after that in 11th and 12th?

This is the difficulty for so many kids. Seems a lot of them could get through and pass Alg II, but that would be it. However, with the now required 4 years of math, if you take Alg 1 in 8th grade, then you are left taking Alg II, Geometry and two more - calculus and stats maybe? I would have flunked out.

Of course, now that it's all math 1, 2, 3 and 4, I don't know what is expected -- anyone? If you know how the pattern for new math works, please let us know.

Paula Caldarella said...

Cere, back in the "dark ages", as my children say, that was all the math that was required. I took no Math after 10th grade. I believe Calculus was offered in 11th and Trig in 12th.

Anonymous said...

After a frustrating week of trying to get my kids to understand base 10 multiplication and showing them the "old school way" and them understanding, this really made me laugh.

Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

Paula Caldarella said...

I'm just thankful and blessed I married a Math major.

Ella Smith said...

Dunwoody Mom, I am in the same Boat. My husband Merck has a undergraduate degree in Math from Emory. This is where my son gets his math genes.

The students who are in the track with my son will take AP Cal and AP Statistic both. This track does give those math kids a good track. I could never do this.

Special needs students are taking Math I and Math Support. Math II and Math Support. This gives them 4 years of math in 2 years. Then if they have problems in Math III and Math IV they have the Math Support classes for credit. Now I do not know how this works. This is the second year so we will see.

Anonymous said...

DunwoodyMom... Everybody did not take algebra in 8th grade in DCSS 30 years ago. I and most of my classmates took pre-algebra in 8th and algebra in 9th. I went on to double up with Algebra 2 and geometry in 10th, then finished with trig in 11th and calc in 12th. I then got an undergraduate in Math.

I certainly don't think algebra in 8th grade is required.

Cerebration said...

Gee whiz you guys are old!!!

fedupindcss said...

Back in the paleolithic age, up in the northeast where I went to school, four years of math were not required (Hey! Guess what--it still isn't at my old high school, where 98% of the students go on to 4-year college). I did take four years, for no discernible reason, but the ultimate class at the time was Trig. I did not take Calc until college. My general crappiness in math was not related to not taking Algebra in 8th grade, but to having a poor teacher in 2nd grade, who was about 90 and unable to really teach anymore.

That is the problem here--poor teaching of basics early on. They are so caught up in parent-pleasing garbage like compacting and manipulatives that no one is focusing on rote learning, which in math is invaluable. Knowing the basic stuff cold allows you to focus on more difficult concepts unimpeded later on. It is incredible how many kids in DCSS do not know the multiplication tables.

Paula Caldarella said...

Well, anonymous, so you know what I took in High School better than I do? Wow. If it were that important I'd go to my Mother's house and get my high school transcript to verify.

And yes, Cere, I'm old. :)

Paula Caldarella said...

I also only took 2 years of Science, physical science in 8th and biology in 9th. Chemistry was not required back then.

I loaded up on the English and Literature courses.

fedupindcss said...

Well, DM, you are obviously the reason the Chinese are overtaking us internationally.

Paula Caldarella said...

LOL - I know, but my kids are making up for me. But, hey, I'm well-read and I love Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

A good comparison of the new GPS Math I, etc. courses and the traditional math courses is on the DOE Math Curriculum site.

Having talked to tons of math teachers and college math professors, the general thought is the integrated math courses may ultimately be better for students who are not advanced math students. But the state still has a lot of bugs to work out. And the courses should be taught by talented and dedicated teachers who truly understand mathematical theory and can teach the different strands in a coherent fashion. Otherwise one college prof (who was on the taskforce) said it is like going to a restaurant and getting a little chinese food, a little mexican, a little french and a little american. That is not gourmet fusion- just a cheap buffet.

Students on the regular track should complete the equivalent of Algebra II plus some statistics and trig by the end of Math 4. I have long wondered why Cox and her gang at the BOE thinks EVERY student needs to reach this level. I think some students (maybe all) would benefit from one year of business math so they can understand why paying the minimum payment on the credit card bill is always a losing situation.

Also agree with all the comments that if DCSS keeps promoting students who do not have basic computation skills, they will not be successful in any HS math program.

Cerebration said...

My brother is a math whiz - math/accounting major in college. He's an accountant for a plumbing company. He makes a good living - but he very often ok's paychecks to the plumbers for much more than his own! (And they don't work as many hours and get free clothes!)

Paula Caldarella said...

I owe an apology to anonymous. I just pulled out an old yearbook and did take Algebra 1 in 9th grade.

Anonymous said...

How does America's Choice strategies address how to teach the GPS in math? Also, are the America's Choice trainers in elementary even capable of teaching anything about content of any kind?

Anonymous said...

After all, the basics of math should begin with elementary students. America's Choice is just another expensive program for DCSS to act as if they are trying something.

Cerebration said...

Aren't teachers already trained (in college) to teach? Don't they spend time doing student/team teaching to learn? I can't think of another profession where you are hired and then completely re-trained every few years and told exactly how to do your job. Especially one where creativity is supposed to be valued.

Anonymous said...

Why are we insisting that every kid take the old track or the new track? Let's assess the kids, let the teachers and the assessment decide the track. Let's have three tracks after Algebra I:
1. needs to repeat Algebra I- no mastery (69 or below)
2. needs an additional course to achieve mastery (70-79)
3. achieved mastery. (80 or above)

Additionally, you'd have advanced/AP options along the way.

You can do this after every course...and your kids would appreciate it. They would succeed, because not every kid suceeds at the same pace, in the same way, in the same environment, or with the same teacher. Let's move the kids at their own pace, not the kids to some arbitrary pace set up by the system.

Cerebration said...

You mean treat them as individuals?!!!

Shayna said...

History lesson on math: This year's seniors were the 2nd class to get mandatory 8th grade algebra -- last year's grads were the first. Dr. Brown swore left, right and center that the research showed that all kids who had calculus as seniors did well in college (I, persoonally, think he had his Venn diagram reversed) -- in order to get everyone into Calculus as seniors, they had to take Algebra in 8th grade -- regardless of readiness -- so many were taking Algebra without knowing their multiplication tables (this doesn't work too well and, therefore, the success rate those years wasn't too high). I stood up at board meetings and pointed out that I had Calculus in high school and found it awfully difficult and not terribly useful for law school (I took it again in college and it was easier in College after having had it in High School) and that it was a mistake to put kids who weren't ready for it into it but I was told that my kids wouldn't be impacted by it so I should not worry about it and be quiet. It was passed and they put all these kids into Algebra in 8th Grade who really weren't ready for Algebra in 8th and then weren't ready for Geometry in 9th, etc (and what I witnessed personally was at Hanederson and Lakeside -- those would be some of the good schools).

Anonymous said...

I had calculus in high school, my wife had it in college. I struggled with it both times. She was a math whiz, and aced it. Neither one of us has ever used it in our jobs, nor our daily lives.

My brother-in-law is a civil engineer. He lives in New Jersey and uses calculus to determine flow rates of cars traveling through intersections to figure out how to design better intersections. In New Jersey, at an intersection, to turn left, you first turn right, then left, then left. It's called a Jersey jug handle and my brother-in-law believes that is the best way to turn left.

I don't think any of us really got much out of calculus.

Anonymous said...

Bloggers here are highly involved and educated parents and community members, so it is remarkable how the posters on this thread tend to view higher level high school math as almost useless and seem unfamiliar with the typical college-prep math sequence. You'd find different attitudes in an Asian country. (Google "asian attitudes towards math" for some studies.) Asian cultures value math achievement, people believe that mastery is accomplished through effort rather than by being born a "math whiz," and parents are more interested and involved in what their children are doing in math.

In our culture, it is extremely foolish to decree that all students must pass algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics (the components mixed into the Math 1-4 courses) to graduate. Many average kids don't leave elementary with solid arithmetic skills, their parents can't help with math, the community doesn't value math, and some teachers don't even understand the material well. And if Lynn Grant, Johnny Brown, Kathy Cox, and Jay Mathews understood statistics, they'd know that correlation does not imply causation. (Maybe students who choose advanced courses do better later in life, but that doesn't mean that forcing all students into advanced courses will help them do better.)

However, higher level high school math courses are extremely important and should be available to students who can handle them. Our future engineers, scientists, any researchers who use statistics, and, of course, math teachers need to have a solid grounding in high school math. Whether or not they actually use calculus, they need well-developed problem-solving skills and analytical ability. (If any of those jobs are left in the US.)

By the way, I don't use trigonometry or calculus per se in my job (engineering), but I do use concepts from Fourier analysis, which is based on trigonometry and calculus. Mostly I use the patient application of logic and analytical skills, the kind of ability which is fostered by studying math.

Cerebration said...

Hilarious story about the Jersey jug handle, Anon! Thanks for sharing so I'll know what to expect if I ever have to rent a car there. I think the roundabouts in GB may be more intuitive - even on the wrong side of the road!

Personally, I wish we would create a true "High Achiever" math/science high school - centrally located (ND Hills property?) and really, truly only hold seats for the top 10% of the students in the county. (Chamblee HS on steroids - with your own transportation.) These kids who really can do high level math deserve a place and a challenging environment to work on it. In addition, we all need them to succeed to their highest level in our society - they will add untold gifts to society at large in the future if their gifts are treasured and nurtured here and now.

Engineer from 8:38 am said...

Amen. One of my frustrations is that I have seen how such gifts are NOT treasured and nurtured in the neighborhood schools.

Hold the "steroids," though. I think we want Chamblee High, not Gwinnett High School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (which is CCHS on steroids.)

Chamblee offers a rigorous accelerated math program leading to AP Calculus BC in 11th grade, followed by multivariate calculus in 12th. The program is enriched by math team. (Historically a few individuals have been allowed to go even faster, taking calculus in 10th grade.)

GSMST's website says they require 10th graders to take AP Calculus AB or BC. To get there, the 9th grade required courses are Accelerated Integrated Math 2 the fall semester of 9th grade, and Accelerated Math 3 the spring semester. Even to a math nut like me that seems like a bit much. Great as an option for the handful of students who can do it, but you can't fill a whole school with them in Dekalb.

This year's non-Chamblee sophomores, like Ella's son, have the option of taking calculus in 11th grade, but as far as I can tell that was an anomaly resulting from the curriculum change. Otherwise, in my experience and that of some friends, our middle school has strongly discouraged acceleration that would lead to 11th grade calculus. And of course our high school will have no multivariate course for these kids for the senior year.

Anonymous said...

Quick aside about jug handles from a Jersey native: They work. They are much safer (espcially in high traffic volume areas) than what we have here, which is drivers making randon U-turns in traffic. It's mind-numbing how many inconsiderate drivers will make U-turns on Lawrenceville Highway and not give a darn about vehicles coming from the other way.

Anon 12:29 AM, your enginer brother-in-law is saving some lives with his work.

Cerebration said...

I don't know about the jug handles, but I do like roundabouts.

Also - Chamblee on steroids - I exaggerated (I do that) - I really would just like to see an independent school focused on truly "gifted" - nixing the new, lower standards for entry into the program (Kittredge was watered down by Dr Brown to get 2 students from each ES.) But since we have been released from the federal lawsuit racial requirements which was what originally inspired the magnet programs, the program is no longer a racial issue - it is free to be a place for the top 10% or so to thrive regardless of race or home school.

The Druid HIlls property could serve several separate programs if rebuilt as a "campus" - more like a small college. Say, a building for a School of the Arts, a building for a military academy and a building for a gifted program. They could all share the stadium for PE and one auditorium. Plus, the location is easily accessible by MARTA.

Cerebration said...

For example, below are the current requirements to get into Kittredge, etc - vs Arabia --

To meet the eligibility criteria to apply for a magnet program --

High Achievers Magnet Programs
75th percentile Reading Total
75th percentile Math w/computation Total
85th percentile Composite Score
3.0 fall core grade point average

Arabia Mountain HS
80th percentile Composite Score
3.0 fall core grade point average

Link to the pdf -

Anonymous said...

Cere, I think you misinterpreted the testing requirements.
Arabia only requires a complete composite score of 80th percentile on any type of norm referenced test (i.e. ITBS). Chamblee HS high achiever program requires at least 75th %tile on total reading AND 75th %tile on total math AND at least an 85th %tile score on the complete composite.

A student could get into the tiny Arabia Mountain magnet program with a low total math if their other scores averaged 80 or above on the complete composite. As far as I can tell there is no test score or grade requirements for the vast majority of the school. Isn't the rest of the school a "choice" or theme school?

Cerebration said...

I just copied and pasted the requirements from the brochure. I don't really consider the 75th percentile "high achieving" in anything. I think we need to create a true gifted program for truly gifted students. They really are very different in many ways. And I for one, want them to learn a lot so that they can go on to cure diseases or find new sources of energy or discover a new element - whatever.

Anonymous said...

Amen to the 75% statement. As many of you will recall, we have been having this discussion for a looooooooong time in regard to entrance to magnet schools. I say " let the highest achievers " attend. Frankly, my child would not likely be one of them. But, somehow the disproportionate spending might be a little easier to swallow........... But, of course, comments fall on deaf ears of DCSS and then of course we have to get into the north/south issue again, and again. So, the standards remain and the board continues and nothing ever changes. Another day in Dekalb County.

No Duh said...

We have plenty of students throughout DCSS that score in the 98 and 99% on ITBS, etc. Now THAT is a high achiever.

If only there were a school just for students scoring in the 98 - 99 percentile, not only would those students be truly served by the county, but it would be pretty hard for parents to bad mouth the school for being unfair or that some students are lucky enough to get it, etc.

Cere, is it possible to determine how many elem, middle and high kids are scoring in the 98-99% on the ITBS?

Cerebration said...

That would be a really great solution -- I'd even take it down to the 96th percentile. The top 5% of all high school students even - that would amount to about 1400 high school aged students. It wouldn't be a "brain drain" as you wouldn't have a mass exodus of people leaving certain schools simply because they know how to work the numbers and get in - effectively getting their child a private school education, when they really aren't "gifted" at all. Ask any teacher at Kittredge - if they'll tell you - the teacher has gotten much harder for them because nowadays, they have a class with a wide-range of abilities - and it's hard to focus attention on the gifted because you have several others who simply don't get it or can't keep up the pace. I'll bet if you raised the requirement, and TEACHERS had to recommend students for the program using ITBS and COGAT scores and classroom performance you would only get one to three or four from each elementary school's 4th grade class...

But - judging from Monday night's board meeting, the cat has been let out of the bag and the fact is that our school system is still very much driven by race when making decisions - not by what is best practice or best solution to advance our system. I credit Dr. Walker for at least being honest about it and stating that he is definitely a "race-conscious person" - in the past the actions have been taken but the racial motivation has always been denied. We can't get anywhere near we hope for here on the blog until we get past the past. Pretty disheartening.

Check out Ella's report and the comments that follow at