Fast and feeble math students

Affluent Montgomery County, Maryland is accelerating more students in math, but a top math teacher says advanced students don’t understand the basics. From the Washington Post:

The students swapped stories of little sisters, brothers and cousins who were taking above-grade-level math and getting good grades, yet did not seem to have a firm grasp of the material.

High school teachers have to fill in the holes in their advanced students’ math understanding says Eric Walstein. Students know how to punch numbers into a calculator but don’t understand what they’re doing, he says.

This thesis has become Walstein’s obsession: In its drive to be the best, please affluent parents and close the achievement gap on standardized tests, the county is accelerating too many students in math, at the expense of the curriculum — and the students. The average accelerated math student “thinks he’s fine. His parents think he’s fine. The school system says he’s fine. But he’s not fine!” Walstein declares on one occasion. On another, Walstein is even less diplomatic. ” ‘We have the best courses and there’s no achievement gap and everything is wonderful,’ ” he says, parroting the message he believes county administrators are trying to project.

“The problem is, they’re lying!”

On Kitchen Table Math, Barry Garelick points out that Montgomery County defunded a successful experiment with Singapore Math and instituted Everyday Math.

About Joanne


  1. Andromeda says:

    A friend of mine who’s a Montgomery Blair alum points out this is particularly startling since Montgomery Blair is a *magnet school* — one of the best-known in the country, even — so it simply has no excuse for needing that many semesters to get the material across to the students it’s supposed to be serving.

  2. Whenever I teach calculus, in particular second semester calculus, I find my “good” math students to be wretched in algebra. If high school math teachers are having to compensate for elementary/middle school deficiencies, what do you think happens when they get to college?

  3. When I started reading the article I felt there was a bit of room to defend Mongtgomery County Schools. They could claim they are teaching more math to more kids to meet state standards, but after reading the entire article I was completely against the school’s curriculum.

    Betsy Brown:

    By using a graphing calculator they can when studying linear equations students “can learn the relationship of the an equation to a graph.” I find it hard to believe it takes a calculator to graph a linear equation. Plotting two points is all it takes.

    “They can understand the concept of slope before anyone gives them the formula”. What formula? Slope is rise over run.

    Betsy Brown is clearly ignorant of Algebra and I suspect she does not know why it is important to learn Algebra. That might be the problem with the state’s standards of learning too.

  4. banging the same drum –

    “…a great many of us really don’t have the knowledge or skills needed to think through basic, foundational decisions such as retirement planning, investment strategies, mortgages, and similar. The same can be said about our inability to distinguish junk science from real science, as well as our near total lack of understanding of economics. This is a really big deal, especially when such policy matters as climate change, health care, and energy are as prominent as they are right now.

    Someone somewhere–perhaps even on this blog!–is going to say that Orzel is a self-important catastrophist and that it really does not make sense to blame those poor math-challenged, absent-minded humanists for a problem that might better be pinned on the usual suspects, the leaders academics love to hate.

  5. Over the past 10 months I’ve blogged extensively about math issues in MoCo….