From ‘No Child Left Behind’ to ‘No Child Gets Ahead’

 

A slippery slope no longer, our public schools are in a disastrous tumble. Every time we think it cannot get worse, it does.

With disbelief, I saw recent headlines about the public schools in Virginia potentially delaying advanced courses in mathematics until the eleventh grade. Headlines give false pictures, so I read on, hoping to find a shred of redemption in the story.

Little light was found. True, the idea called “The Virginia Mathematics Pathways” is just a proposal within a regular cycle of reexamining the math curriculum. (Could you tell me why teaching math needs to be reexamined so often since it has been taught successfully for millennia?) But the self-esteem of some children is threatened by those who excel at math. And, as expected in today’s social climate, a racial thread is shaping the discussion.

Position papers by a national association for math educators that were shared by the education department argue “tracking” students — sorting advanced ones into separate classes — results in the over-representation of white and wealthy students.

“Those that have been privileged by the current system must be willing to give up that privilege for more equitable schooling,” one of the papers reads.

The fire for mathematics first blazes in the pre-school years. If unhindered and nurtured, it grows quickly, like a bean vine. It is already difficult to ignite this fire at upper-elementary ages. For sure, once adolescent hormones set in, only the exceptional teacher can breakthrough and set the flames ablaze. So, the idea of delaying the challenges that fuel a child’s “math brain” until the eleventh grade is disastrous.

me-worry-alfred-e-neumannDo you remember Mad Magazine? My older brother subscribed to it back when it was relatively innocuous (or it wouldn’t have passed our portal). Humor evades me. Every synonym for “gullible” has been used on me. I don’t get spoofs either. Hence I remember leafing through my brother’s copies of Mad trying to figure out what was so funny.

The kinds of stories that once made up Mad (or, at a more interesting level today, The Onion or The Babylon Bee) have become actual news. Consider teachers in certain districts who vehemently decry returning to classrooms while carrying on their own social lives. Or the elimination of literary classics, even landmarks like Huckleberry Finn that shed the most revealing light on race in America. Or arts organizations who suddenly feel the need to apologize for sustaining art.

How we would have chuckled at those headlines just a few years ago!

And the laughable idea of denying a child the rigors of accelerated math in the name of a faux version of equality would have been laughable too.

I once thought that the damage wrought by the “self-esteem” mania of the ’90s couldn’t be topped. But today’s ideologically driven witch-hunt under the singed banner of racial equality has taken madness to astronomical levels. Not far away are headlines complaining about the inequity of teaching music to children using a system of lines, spaces, and circles, especially since medieval Italian men developed it? (Wait, something like that is already happening!)

Can we, in good conscience, still teach skills like proper position in handwriting? Does it matter, considering the damage that eliminating cursive has wrought on a generation of kids? What about skills like learning to tie shoes (who needs bows in the Land of Velcro)? And what shall we do about those pesky rules in sports like football and baseball? Better toss them until the kids are older!

Will the people of Virginia have enough sense to fight this? The outraged national attention given to this proposal may do their fighting for them. But I fear this idea will find wings. If so, farewell to another lane in the ever-narrower road to higher aspirations.

Oh no, there I go again. “Higher aspirations.” I am incorrigible.

Public school has been unredeemable for a long time. But the presence of advanced courses did, at least, allow some students to escape the trap of a curriculum characterized by ineptitude and low expectations.

And so we at Professor Carol (and our intrepid colleagues) soldier on, embracing the growing awareness of the need for great books and great art, ancient and modern languages, real math and science: a movement where all students are nurtured to their fullest potential. There is nothing elite or exclusionary about serious education—except to those who, for some misguided reason, refuse to pass it on.

Published in Education
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  1. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    The title of this post is simply brilliant . . .

    • #1
  2. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    For at least the past five years, public school kids by us who want to take Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade have to take the ACT or SAT (as opposed to a teacher designed test or recommendation) as an entrance requirement and if they score high enough, they take a bus from their local school to the high school for class at 7a.m.  They then return by bus to their middle school for the rest of the day.  This is at the storied New Trier HS.  They don’t want kids being on track for calculus in high school.

     

    • #2
  3. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I understand some of the effort in Virginia is concern about students getting put early into certain math “tracks” that determine what classes they can and cannot take for the rest of their time in school. I understand the potential problems with putting students in “tracks” early. The son of a co-worker could not get in high school certain math classes his father thought he should take because the son had in 6th grade been put on a slower math track that prevented him from taking certain advanced classes in 11th and 12th grade. [In that case, no real harm. Despite (Chinese heritage scientist) Dad’s desires, Son was terrible at math and the slower track was appropriate for Son. But the risk of erroneous early assignment to a math track  is still a potential problem.]

    On the other hand, the opportunity our daughter had in 8th grade to take an advanced math class at the high school got her onto a track of math excellence that carried her to a B.S. in Math, and her current work in statistical analysis for an employee benefits and pension management company. 

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    For some subjects I’ve been skeptical of the mania to teach them at earlier and earlier ages. Some high school teachers have college envy, and that’s a problem. In our school district there was once a parent (and teacher?) pushing for the addition of psychology to the curriculum.  Some of those things are better learned when a person has developed a broad base of knowledge and experience in other fields. An additional concern I have is that adding narrowly specialized fields at the high school level usually means creating more cracks for less advanced students to fall through.  But math is different. It’s not a narrow specialty, and in that field it’s best for young minds to learn as much as they can while young, because it gets harder when they’re older.  (Even Isaac Newton had trouble with some of the math he had done when younger.)  It’s almost criminal to deliberately withhold opportunities to learn more math from those who are ready for it.

    And to anyone who disagrees with me: Face it. You’re a hater.  :-)

    • #4
  5. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    For some subjects I’ve been skeptical of the mania to teach them at earlier and earlier ages. Some high school teachers have college envy, and that’s a problem. In our school district there was once a parent (and teacher?) pushing for the addition of psychology to the curriculum. Some of those things are better learned when a person has developed a broad base of knowledge and experience in other fields. An additional concern I have is that adding narrowly specialized fields at the high school level usually means creating more cracks for less advanced students to fall through. But math is different. It’s not a narrow specialty, and in that field it’s best for young minds to learn as much as they can while young, because it gets harder when they’re older. (Even Isaac Newton had trouble with some of the math he had done when younger.) It’s almost criminal to deliberately withhold opportunities to learn more math from those who are ready for it.

    And to anyone who disagrees with me: Face it. You’re a hater. :-)

    Since I have no problem being labeled a hater, here goes. :)

    Watching my daughter, my son, and their peers, I think there is risk to pushing some math too early. My daughter loved getting into algebra in 8th grade. But algebra requires some rather abstract thinking. My daughter’s brain at age 14 was ready for the required level of abstraction. Many of her peers were not. Some were pushed prematurely into the abstract realm of algebra, could not comprehend it, and because of that decided they hated math, a decision that stayed with them through high school. I often wondered whether they might have had a better experience with math if they had not been pushed prematurely into “higher” math. Our son started algebra later than our daughter did, and still progressed well, eventually getting an engineering degree in college. 

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    For some subjects I’ve been skeptical of the mania to teach them at earlier and earlier ages. Some high school teachers have college envy, and that’s a problem. In our school district there was once a parent (and teacher?) pushing for the addition of psychology to the curriculum. Some of those things are better learned when a person has developed a broad base of knowledge and experience in other fields. An additional concern I have is that adding narrowly specialized fields at the high school level usually means creating more cracks for less advanced students to fall through. But math is different. It’s not a narrow specialty, and in that field it’s best for young minds to learn as much as they can while young, because it gets harder when they’re older. (Even Isaac Newton had trouble with some of the math he had done when younger.) It’s almost criminal to deliberately withhold opportunities to learn more math from those who are ready for it.

    And to anyone who disagrees with me: Face it. You’re a hater. :-)

    Since I have no problem being labeled a hater, here goes. :)

    Watching my daughter, my son, and their peers, I think there is risk to pushing some math too early. My daughter loved getting into algebra in 8th grade. But algebra requires some rather abstract thinking. My daughter’s brain at age 14 was ready for the required level of abstraction. Many of her peers were not. Some were pushed prematurely into the abstract realm of algebra, could not comprehend it, and because of that decided they hated math, a decision that stayed with them through high school. I often wondered whether they might have had a better experience with math if they had not been pushed prematurely into “higher” math. Our son started algebra later than our daughter did, and still progressed well, eventually getting an engineering degree in college.

    I don’t think we disagree there. That’s a good point.

    • #6
  7. Dominique Prynne Member
    Dominique Prynne
    @DominiquePrynne

    I thought the universities in Virginia would push back on this, but I have seen nothing so far.  I would think that science and engineering programs would suffer greatly.   Wouldn’t programs have to bring students along in more advanced math at the college level because students had less exposure to higher math in high school?  Of course, all this talk of “free college” may be a part of the puzzle.  Keep the edu-governmental complex going and growing!  As well as keeping students in school for years and years.    

    • #7
  8. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    “No child left behind” has been “no child moves ahead” since it was created by the Geo. W. Bush.   That federal overreach turned poor schools into warehouses where kids are taught all year to take a test.   Kids loose about 25% of instruction time doing practice tests for a remedial standard.  The testing is not designed to help individual students or individual teachers.   It is a huge waste of valuable learning time.  Meanwhile the schools with good students can focus on learning new stuff, because the tests are so easy that no effort is needed to prepare for them.   At the schools with good students that week is treated as rest period for a final end-of-year push into new subjects.

    Tracking is important as God gives us all different talents.  We don’t need every kid to be a math genius or great artist, but it we all benefit if there is at least one.

    • #8
  9. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    At the risk of putting words in the author’s (pen? mouth? what?) I don’t think she’s complaining about forcing children into classes for which they aren’t ready, but about keeping them out of classes because they aren’t in the right class.

    Of course it may be wrong to refuse to give instruction when appropriate, just as it may also be wrong to give instruction when it’s inappropriate.  But is it ever correct to determine what is to be taught based upon skin color or nationality or the shape of one’s eyes?

    And I think she was very clear when she said that “public schools are in a disastrous tumble”.  Personally I think she understated it, but that isn’t the issue either.  When she said “Public school has been unredeemable for a long time” she wrote what I would have thought to be just as plain as the nose on Jimmy Durante’s face.

     

    • #9
  10. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    For at least the past five years, public school kids by us who want to take Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade have to take the ACT or SAT (as opposed to a teacher designed test or recommendation) as an entrance requirement and if they score high enough, they take a bus from their local school to the high school for class at 7a.m. They then return by bus to their middle school for the rest of the day. This is at the storied New Trier HS. They don’t want kids being on track for calculus in high school.

     

    I had Algebra 1 in 9th grade, Algebra 2 in 10th, Geometry in 11th, and Analysis (calculus and trig) in the 12th.  This was our college prep pipeline for math, and it was a good one.  When I got to college, I got all As in math except for one course – The History of Mathematics.

    Equality of outcome always requires bringing the top down to make it work.  Raising the bottom won’t always result in an equal outcome, but it ends in a better outcome – students achieving the highest level they can . . .

    • #10
  11. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    On the other hand, the opportunity our daughter had in 8th grade to take an advanced math class at the high school got her onto a track of math excellence that carried her to a B.S. in Math, and her current work in statistical analysis for an employee benefits and pension management company. 

    I was on the slow math track in high school, being a performing arts student at the time. I excelled in algebra 2 my jr year and was given the go ahead for a normal calculus class. At the time, fast track got you into 2 calculus AP courses. I took calculus in college and have 2 full bachelor degrees (one in math) and a minor from a liberal arts school after 4 years. I did not kill myself in college to do this.

    Fast tracks in early grades or not does not make or break your future. If anything, if you have the aptitude for the fast track, it can make you more flexible in college to try out other electives. You can make a mistake here and there without detailing your college career.

    • #11
  12. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    Stina (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    On the other hand, the opportunity our daughter had in 8th grade to take an advanced math class at the high school got her onto a track of math excellence that carried her to a B.S. in Math, and her current work in statistical analysis for an employee benefits and pension management company.

    I was on the slow math track in high school, being a performing arts student at the time. I excelled in algebra 2 my jr year and was given the go ahead for a normal calculus class. At the time, fast track got you into 2 calculus AP courses. I took calculus in college and have 2 full bachelor degrees (one in math) and a minor from a liberal arts school after 4 years. I did not kill myself in college to do this.

    Fast tracks in early grades or not does not make or break your future. If anything, if you have the aptitude for the fast track, it can make you more flexible in college to try out other electives. You can make a mistake here and there without detailing your college career.

    When (or maybe where) I was in HS, I don’t recall math being restricted: Chemistry and Physics were for the smart kids.

    • #12
  13. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    For at least the past five years, public school kids by us who want to take Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade have to take the ACT or SAT (as opposed to a teacher designed test or recommendation) as an entrance requirement and if they score high enough, they take a bus from their local school to the high school for class at 7a.m. They then return by bus to their middle school for the rest of the day. This is at the storied New Trier HS. They don’t want kids being on track for calculus in high school.

     

    Health report after health report has shown that pre-teens and teenagers should get to sleep in late, if possible. So now judging from what you have written, the group of students who are  attempting to use their brains and get ahead in math  has to sacrifice sleep to do it.

    Plus although it has been ages since I have thought about the ACT and the SAT tests, I have never heard of students taking these tests prior to High School.

    Sometimes I think I will end up shaking my head until my head falls off.

    How has our society arrived at this?

     

    • #13
  14. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Just more good arguments for home-schooling. 

    I have always been terrible at math. Which was made much worse by being subjected to the torture of “New Math” in junior high school. Does anyone remember School Mathematics Study Group math?  Base seven to start with?  I will never forget those yellow paperback textbooks. They appear in my nightmares to this day. 

    • #14
  15. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    The people behind this idiocy need to be further investigated, not the math scores of kids who learn. These people need to be exposed and called out.  In the meantime, the school buildings will become green while the students’ math scores are written in red…..  This is also the color of the alarm box hanging on the walls – someone needs to pull the lever!!  Thank you for writing about this!

    • #15
  16. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):
    Health report after health report has shown that pre-teens and teenagers should get to sleep in late, if possible. So now judging from what you have written, the group of students who are  attempting to use their brains and get ahead in math  has to sacrifice sleep to do it.

    When my daughter was offered the opportunity to take high school math while she was in junior high, the class started at 7 am, and I drove her there. She has never been a morning person, so we knew she was really turned on by the advanced math that she was willing to go to a 7 am class. She and the other junior high kids in the class then walked the two blocks to the junior high. (My daughter, now age 35, still isn’t a morning person, but she puts on a good imitation of one for her work as a statistical analyst for a company based two time zones east of her.)

    • #16