Thursday, January 13, 2005

Interesting Observation

Best of the Web arrived a bit early today, and had an interesting article from the Newton Tab in it:

Why Can't Johnny Add?
Schoolkids in Newton, a Boston suburb, aren't measuring up in math tests, writes Tom Mountain in the Newton Tab. Thirty-two percent of sixth-graders are in the "warning" or "needs improvement" category in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, and school officials are flummoxed:

The school department offered no tangible explanation for these declining scores other than to admit that they have no explanation, as articulated by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Carolyn Wyatt (salary $106,804), "[The results] have decreased, incrementally, each year and continue to puzzle us." She went on to admit that this downward trend is peculiar to Newton and "is not being seen statewide." Again, she offered no explanation, but she did assure the School Committee that her assistant, Math Coordinator Mary Eich (salary $101,399), is currently investigating the problem.

But according to Mountain, it turns out that between 1999 and 2001, Newton adopted an "anti-racist multicultural math" curriculum:

In 2001 [Superintendent Jeffrey] Young, Mrs. Wyatt and an assortment of other well-paid school administrators, defined the new number-one priority for teaching mathematics, as documented in the curriculum benchmarks, "Respect for Human Differences--students will live out the system wide core of 'Respect for Human Differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors."

It continues, "Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others . . ." It goes on and on.

"Nowhere among the first priorities for the math curriculum guidelines is the actual teaching of math," Mountain observes. "That's a distant second." It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out why Newton's kids are falling behind.

This is interesting, because Newton is a very wealthy city, and you'd think that sheerly by the amount of resources they have (you want to see amazing - you should check out their library sometime.), their kids would be outperforming most in the state. Of course, if you're throwing your money at academic fads like 'diversity in mathematics' or the 'whole language' approach to teaching literacy, it might not be a problem of not enough resources, but one of poor management.

On my morning wanders into work, I pass Union Square in Somerville. Just outside the square, before you hit the junkyards and chop shops, there's a small charter school called Prospect Hill Academy.
Last year, after the MCAS results came out, a nice little banner went up stating that their 10th graders were #1 in the state for mathematics. How nice! If you take a look at their annual report, you'll find all sorts of interesting things about them, including the student population makeup and the education levels of the teachers. Also found a link to a Boston Globe article (but lost it, sorry) stating that of the nine schools that achieved the highest MCAS ratings, six were charter schools.

This is a complex issue, and I can't just draw conclusions on the fly. Prospect Hill has an admissions process. Newton doesn't. Prospect Hill is smaller, too, than Newton. On the other hand, though Prospect does mention in their curriculum respect for diversity (a good thing - this is an urban school. There are a lot of different people attending and teaching, too.), there seems to be a fair bit more talk on teaching basic skills. I also wonder whether Prospect Hill is a union house and how much they need to answer to the Somerville Public Schools.
Lots of food for thought.

1 comment:

Nick said...

x + 4 = 9
x = ?

How is that discriminatory? And if you answer 5... are you showing bias against 4 or 6?