Setting kids up to fail - math class

"Four in ten NYC high schools don't offer Algebra 2 and both Physics and Chemistry."

At least that's what this article and linked report say.

The implication is clear - many of our students don't have the opportunity to advance in math and the sciences.

The truth though is much more disturbing.

The reason why these schools aren't offering Algebra 2 is very simple - the kids aren't ready for it. Any math licensed teacher is qualified and capable of teaching any level of regents math which includes Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. The truth is that the students in these schools by and large aren't getting past Geometry.

Even in some highly touted "miracle schools," looking behind the curtain reveals kids ill prepared to get through geometry.

The disturbing part is that these kids are set up to fail - to take a class and exam that they're ill prepared for only to have their self esteem crushed. Why? Because more kids taking more exams at higher levels is perceived to look good.

In New York, students have to take three years of math to graduate high school. Two years can be spent on one level of math and of course Regents exams are king.

Then you have the classes: Algebra, Geometry, and then Algebra 2 and Trig. Algebra is by far the easiest course. Geometry, which is really a course in logic and deductive reasoning using Euclidean Geometry as a platform is much heavier.

Lets see how things play out.

In "high performing" populations you have kids take Algebra in the 8th grade. By and large the kids do fine in the class and on the regents exams but, at least according to my colleagues, these kids don't really internalize the skills, they just learn the mechanics.

In schools with struggling populations, they don't start Algebra until high school and then do it over two years. This leads to a reasonable pass rate but then the kids are placed in geometry and are taking a much more rigorous course in half the time.

The results are predictable.

I graded geometry regents this past June. I graded two long answer questions with a combined value of 10 points. From unscreened schools, including at least one highly regarded one, the median grade was 0 and the mean not far above. Even in screened schools the results weren't much better. There we saw a bi-modal distribution with kids either doing very well or very poorly.

Why do we set these kids up to fail? Because, test scores are king and kids are required to pass regents to graduate. Schools and teachers aren't allowed to do what's best for kids. Schools and teachers must answer to the politicians - remember, my rating and job depends on how kids do on standardized tests.

You start to feel even worse when you start thinking about the value or lack thereof in lots of what we require in high school.

Why am I writing about math?

Well, to find out you'll have to tune in next time when I talk about the CS side of things.


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