Learning math too quickly

In response to complaints about Everyday Math, New Milford, Connecticut schools tried Saxon and Singapore math curricula , reported on the results and chose to combine Saxon and Everyday Math. Mindless Math Mutterings praises the district’s process, while Rory at Parentalcation analyzes the critique of Singapore Math.

The district found parents like the program and students do well with it. In fact, they learn so quickly that some special education students outperform non-special ed students in non-Singapore classes.

The report:

Students in this program K-8 would have completed Algebra I, most of Algebra II and Geometry. Currently between 20%-25% are tackling Algebra I in grade 8; under 5% in a good year are tackling Geometry by that grade level.

Rory’s translation:

It will make the rest of the education establishment look stupid.

The report asks:

Can we train 6th grade teachers to teach Algebra I well? Can we recruit grade 7 teachers who are comfortable presenting lots of Geometry and Algebra II? If not, do we have a sense we could train them and, if so, at what costs? If we went down this road, it would become necessary to redesign the scope and sequence of high school math sequences. Does the system have the funds to do that and the staff to deliver the change? We would have almost all students taking Calculus by junior year, if not before then. That means the academic levels expected of all our staff would be raised in math.

Rory translates:

We already told you that we were education majors, and math really really scares us.

It seems odd to worry about students learning too much math too quickly.

Teachers also were concerned that Singapore Math required more lesson preparation time. It’s hard to believe that teaching students who are learning quickly is harder than teaching students who are struggling. Still, if lesson prep takes too long, teachers could teach math three times a week instead of daily and solve the problem of too-fast progress at the same time.

In affluent Ridgewood, New Jersey, parents complain that the reform math curriculum isn’t teaching their children to solve problems.

Elizabeth Gnall uses workbooks from top-scoring Singapore’s math curriculum with her two school-aged children, who also attend a local Kumon tutoring center. The computation practice and worksheets from both programs allow for mastery and success in small bites, and that builds confidence, she said. Better yet, her children enjoy it.

“I know reformists like to call it drill and kill,” she said, “but I look at it as drill for skill.”

The battle is so fierce that the new superintendent quit the job before he even started.

Last week, a math teacher at an elite New England boarding school told me he’ll spend his summer teaching math to incoming students who had “reform math” in middle school. Without intensive help, they won’t be able to handle a college-prep math curriculum, he said.

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Comments

  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Years from now, people will wonder why today’s teachers failed to pass off the drills and routine testing to computers.

  2. always illuminating to substitute the word “reading” or “writing” for the word “math” when discussion comes to learning.

    one teacher looked at me earnestly and said there is no point in going beyond the 4th grade level for math since they’ll have little to do in 5th grade. But the direction became clear upon reading back the same sentence with “no point in going beyond the 4th grade level in reading since …”

    it can be a challenge to prepare for different levels of math students — but it is a proper challenge.

  3. Pat McGee says:

    Do away with Education majors and have people take academic classes. Have actual math teachers at grades lower than we do now. Pay them well. Math majors have little incentive to become teachers due to the comparatively low pay they get as teachers compared to what private businesses are willing to pay them.

  4. “It seems odd to worry about students learning too much math too quickly. ”

    It’s not at all odd to wonder if you can actually teach algebra to a 6th grader without dumbing things down.

  5. Independent George says:

    Cal – read it again; this was the evaluation of a pilot program. They’re not wondering whether they can teach algebra to a sixth grader without dumbing it down; they in fact did teach algebra to sixth graders without dumbing it down. The issue was whether they had the human capital to keep pace with their own students.

  6. It’s not at all odd to wonder if you can actually teach algebra to a 6th grader without dumbing things down.

    Our school starts teaching algebraic procedures in grade three. I am still baffled when I see students succeeding, because everyone thought we were too stupid to learn it then. Apparently thought so, I mean, since we weren’t even allowed to begin Algebra until grade eight.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    Both Saxon Math and Singapore Math are popular among homeschoolers and are often discussed in homeschooling circles. Saxon has the reputation of being a sound program, but demanding a lot of drill and less understanding. Parents whose kids are not naturally apt at math like Saxon, but kids who are good at math can be bored with Saxon’s repetition.

    Singapore is more based on understanding the concepts. Students are expected to understand the fundamentals, and apply them in many different ways. Singapore has inventive, demanding problem sets.

    Saxon is popular with Christian fundamentalist parents, and Singapore is popular with secular homeschoolers, but both programs enjoy broad support in both groups.

  8. “they in fact did teach algebra to sixth graders without dumbing it down”

    Maybe. But pilots aren’t representative of everyone.

    Besides, not everyone remembers math. Early isn’t always better. After all, what reason is there to teach algebra to sixth graders? Do you really think that more than a fraction of all students will go beyond calculus?

    Now, if the purpose of starting algebra in sixth grade was to teach it more slowly to the many students who need more than a year to internalize the concepts, that would be different.

  9. What reason is there to teach algebra to sixth graders? We start algebraic concepts with our kids at the preschool level, as soon as they can count. When they hit fractions and percentages, the first thing they think to do is call the result ‘x’ and set up the problem to solve for x. Instead of learning separate algorithms for every area of arithmetic–“this is how you set up a percentages problem; this is how you cross-multiply”–setting up the problem correctly is intuitively obvious to them. At 11, our oldest is finishing calculus and studying linear algebra, and is earning pocket money tutoring kids in our neighborhood who attend the high-scoring local high school.

    I’m sure that not more than a fraction of all students will go beyond calculus. Heck, there’s that girls’ school in another post that doesn’t even offer calculus. It looks to me like escaping the built-in fatalism of the educational establishment–Why would kids need that? Why learn early? Can most kids even learn math anyway?–is one of the great reasons for homeschooling.

  10. Tracy W says:

    Besides, not everyone remembers math. Early isn’t always better. After all, what reason is there to teach algebra to sixth graders? Do you really think that more than a fraction of all students will go beyond calculus?

    Well
    a) you can’t tell which kids will wind up going beyond calculus. For example, one of my mates at engineering school at university had failed out of high school, done an apprenticeship as an electrician, and had eventually decided to go to university and do the degree. How could anyone have predicted that guy’s path at age 12? Why not teach every kid to the best of their ability so they have as many options as possible?

    b) Lots of practice with alegbra over the years embeds the skill in the kid’s head, making it more likelly they will use it in the future as they remember it more.

    Schools should educate kids based on the principle of giving them as many options for their lives as possible. If you can teach maths more efficiently and therefore teach it faster, why not do so? What’s the problem with expanding kids’ minds?

  11. Thanks for the link 🙂 I do have to give the school district credit for trying, but the report was too damming to ignore.