A guest post by Armand Domalewski.
"One of the ideas underpinning the California Math Framework is the notion that math needs to be “detracked”—instead of allowing some students to take Algebra I in 8th grade, it would require all students to enroll in the same math curriculum until the 9th grade."
This is the single most utterly moronic proposal I have ever seen in all the annals of education reform.
I went to a small, fairly traditional K-8 private school. No fancy technology or trend-chasing pedagogy, but relentlessly back-to-basics, serious education. Our entire reading education was phonics for instance, and this was in the early-mid 2000s when I am under the impression that the war on phonics had made significant gains. Each grade had two math tracks, with the upper track one year ahead of the lower track. From Kindergarten on, I and a couple other kids were tracked *two* levels ahead, meaning I took the math classes of the upper track in the grade above. What this meant was that I took Algebra 1 in 7th grade. In 8th grade I arrived at school 40 minutes early to take Geometry one-on-one with one of the 8th grade math teachers (the other few 2-track-up kids had dropped down to regular upper-track by then).
This was an immense benefit to me, and meant I was able to take Calc BC in 11th grade, allowing room for one more STEM elective in 12th grade. The idea of having to stick 2 grade levels below what I did is just horrifying. Not only in terms of boredom and lack of challenge, but also the impact on the other kids. I was already hyperactive enough in the classroom as is. Me in 8th grade in a pre-algebra class would have been a total shitshow.
I know this is a bit long-winded and ranty, but there are few things that make me seethe with incandescent rage as much as this new trend of forcing everyone to operate at the very lowest level for the sake of "equity". Let's be real about what "equity" is: kneecapping the best and brightest so that the worst and least competent can feel better about themselves and useless bureaucrats can pat themselves on the back. It's this absolutely poisonous idea that because some people are incapable of achieving something, nobody at all should allowed to achieve it for themselves. Literal kindergarten playground mentality. Frankly, even in the counterfactual world where detracking *did* reduce racial gaps, I wouldn't care.
Keep the law of Jante over in Scandinavia please. I don't want it here.
And ed school PhD programs frankly seem more like a massive grift the more I read about them. Is there any evidence to the contrary? If so, I'd love to see it. My impression is basically they're a giant factory of breaking things that ain't broke. The war on phonics being the most obvious example.
I’m a California high school physics teacher and this just freaks me out. My district recently moved physics from 3rd to 2nd year and I already have a majority of students incapable of handling the simplified math we are allowed to include according to the Next Gen Science Standards. Math skills took the biggest hit in the pandemic, and I’ve been holding my breath for a return to normalcy that I do not see happening. I agree that this new framework is mostly just giving up on math.
Saying these policies were mere mistakes and had nothing to do with "woke" is misleading. They weren't mistakes, they were conclusions that are natural outcomes of embracing the "woke" world view
Read this and then had my husband read this who has a masters in engineering (aka very good at math. His eyes nearly fell out of his head when he read that you couldn’t take algebra until 9th grade. I mean talk about a way to not encourage kids to live up to their full potential. In fact you’re penalizing them for doing so. Sorry but some people are good at math and they should be rewarded with classes that meet them where they are just like people who are average at math (like me) have classes that meet them where they are. Why we are penalizing kids for being smart in the name of fairness is beyond me!
CA is probably the worst state in the union to be poor or working class. Schools are horrific, gangs run rampant in many areas, cost of food and gasoline is exorbitant and housing expenses are ridiculous.
My local school district was majority Latino but the town wasn’t gang infested and most parents worked (I interfaced with some of them through an after-work ESL program). The kids (who I also got to volunteer with) were generally sweet and obedient through about 4th or 5th grade. These kids seemed very teachable to me for reading and basic arithmetic K-4, yet the standardized test scores were abysmal. Practically a crime. Breaks my heart. The teachers aren’t bad people - most merely see their mission as showing up every day and delivering the lesson plan. Getting every kid up to grade level is not the objective, and it shows.
My only regret is not going hard enough on the math in college, and I majored in ChemE. I would die I had been denied seventh grade algebra.
There's an overarching cultural problem here. The folks who go on to be authors and screenwriters and other creative types mostly grew up hating maths, because it was seen as "not creative". (Honestly a fair assessment.) Their hatred for maths then percolates into "maths is hard" or "maths isn't for everyone" tropes which are everywhere in popular culture. And then kids grow up in that culture and absorb the idea that they can't do maths either.
I have an issue with 8th grade algebra, a HUGE issue.
I don't think every student is ready for algebra in 8th grade. I'm speaking as a former middle school special education teacher, and as someone who graduated from high school in the '70s. Back in that era, the norm was Algebra I by 10th grade (in a junior high/senior high system, 3 years of junior high, 3 years of senior high). The typical sequence was 10th grade Algebra I, 11th grade Geometry, 12th grade Algebra II. I'm also the parent of a student who graduated in the mid '00s and took Algebra I in 9th grade.
In my teaching experience, in a high-poverty exurban (not Californian) k-8 school with, teaching from 2004-2014, most of our students were not ready to start Algebra I in 8th grade. Some of the issues were purely developmental. There are three elements to math ability--calculation (which is best served by memorization), math reasoning, and math fluency (how fast can you run those single-digit calculations?). Too many people, including non-educators, think that calculation and fluency skills make up for lags in math reasoning. Not really, not when it comes to algebra.
I've seen too much pushing down of higher concepts happening especially since the adoption of Common Core methodology. I keep hearing the justifications for introducing higher-level reasoning at younger ages, but you know what gets sacrificed when you do that? Yep, the other two foundational concepts, calculation and fluency. There is only so much time in the school day, and you can only push so much foundational work down to younger grades before you start running foul of developmental limitations (cough cough fractions cough cough really suffer under this notion).
Better to create that firm foundation of calculation and fluency BEFORE getting all hyper about teaching higher-level math reasoning concepts. As it is now, we have lost the necessary parts of kindergarten--learning how to behave in school, how to function socially in school, fine motor activity, and so on--to academics. Students now are expected to arrive in kindergarten ready to read (which means understanding letter-sound correspondences and some phonemic awareness) and learn calculation (which means they already have a grasp of numeracy).
You get into ridiculous situations such as I encountered when substituting in a first grade classroom in early October, where I'm supposed to teach these kids (who barely have a grasp of calculation) the distributive and associative properties of addition.
1st grade. Early October. Can we say tears, agony, and a lot of misery? Plus, talking to the classroom aide, *I* was the one introducing the concept, not the classroom teacher.
The next day I drew on special ed experience and pulled out manipulatives. That helped. But those kids barely understood 2 + 2 = 4.
Nobody does anyone any favors when they water down standards. Equity is excellence for as many as possible. But, not everyone will excel at everything.
“ The primary reason girls, for example, diverge from boys in math performance is because society teaches them that math is not for girls.”
That is a stretch. The male sex may have better innate ability to reason mathematically. And that is OK, because the sexes are not identical in traits.
To bely that cause is to turn a blind eye to reality in the name of equity or other nonsense.
The future of math instruction is likely individualized instruction based on student's abilities and their own tablets. The tablet senses the current state of the child's knowledge and generates challenges and interactions that engage them up a ladder of learning tailored to their capacities. Arguing over what age algebra should be introduced is nonsense. Introducing equity into the strategy is deranged.
"We have a chance to do exactly that with the release of a new California Math Framework "
"We" (as in Californians) do not have this opportunity. "We" live in a one-party state, and one party states tend to migrate toward the extreme ends. As a result, on this issue and almost every other, the fix is already in and "we" are going to be saddled with an new "inclusive-math" where 2+2 might equal 5 for black kids and where word problems will be something like...
"Sam needs puberty blockers, but their state (Utah) discriminates against them for their non-binary identity. Sam knows that in CA is a sanctuary state and would give them the medical care they need to not commit suicide, so they run away from their parents house in South Lake City on an all-electric bus that averages 50 mph. Salt Lake City is 650 miles from the California border. How long will it take before Sam is safe from transphobia as a ward of the state in CA?"
It would be funnier if it wasn't actually plausible.
Even if you took the ideals being expressed at face value, that raising the kids at the bottom is more important than raising the kids at the top, detracking would not accomplish that. I took Algebra in 7th grade. Before I had the opportunity to split onto a higher track, I spent math class either being a distraction or a jackass by making other kids feel dumb. Getting me out of that class was good for learning.
If you really truly cared about raising the bottom, you would give them a dedicated class that had good resources and good teachers. One policy goal you could have would be to ensure that the best teachers weren't disproportionately going to the top level classes for a grade, which they tend to do because they naturally want to teach the most engaged students. Allow students to track but have some sort of incentive, either carrot or stick, to keep resources and attention equal among tracks.
This is the new Lysenko-ism.
"Math, out of all subjects, seems to hold a special terror for Americans, who often seem to view the subject as a test of innate intelligence rather than a skill that can be acquired and honed through hard work."
you seem to disagree with this view, which is part of the problem. You just aren't going to be able to have at the same time high level of math ability AND no child left behind. The fantasy that everyone can get to a truly competent level of math with reasonable effort (which "hard work" in previous sentence implies, rather than Korean/Chinese kid level of effort) is just that.
The only way to have peak excellence in anything is to nurture with focused intensity the segment of the population with predispositions, and there is a wide range of abilities among kids even at HS math level. If you want equity of course the outcome has to be some kind of lowest common denominator strategy. Until the politics in California change the direction of travel of the educational establishment will continue as is.
Interesting post, a bit of rant. I guess the crux of it to "stick" with what "works." My sense is that the students of California could do a lot better unburdened by the shackles of the conventional school system. So..what's so special about the 8th grade ? What is the value of "repeating ?" Is there some sort of race we need to forcibly participate? The public school system is a brain-dead which does NOT have student progression at its heart. Math in particular is a subject with wildly different absorption rates. Thank God there are much better alternatives coming out of the non-public world ...Kahn Academy as just one example. There is a lot of innovation in this space.. just not in the traditional public school system.