Promoting the unprepared

Ted Nutting, a calculus teacher in Seattle, blames “reform math” for students’ low achievement. Specifically, he blames Terry Bergeson, superintendent of public instruction in Washington state, for overseeing the development of “weak, vague math standards” based on a reform model.

This has turned teachers into “facilitators” who “guide” children in learning activities. It has promoted “differentiated instruction,” placing students of wildly differing abilities together where some students cannot do the required work, often to the detriment of those who can.

Half of 10th graders fail the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), which tests low-level math skills, Nutting writes.

We’ve passed students on from class to class; there is no meaningful threshold they must cross to enter a more-difficult class. Since we find that many students in our classes cannot do the work, we dumb down the courses. We say we are admitting unprepared students into our classes in order to “challenge” them.

But students should be challenged in the classes that they are qualified to take, not sent on to classes where they cannot do the work. Unfortunately, things are changing, even in our school’s AP calculus classes: We’re starting to admit unqualified students, and our program will soon begin to deteriorate.

Via Jim Miller of Sound Politics.

About Joanne


  1. Our experience with math instruction is depressing. Lots of math teachers don’t understand the subjects they teach, which may explain their willingness to use this “whole math” nonsense. My kids went to a private school that used a more traditional math curriculum – that was one of the criteria – but even so about half of their teachers did a poor job with math, and in one case, an awful job. At least we have Indian and Chinese immigrants coming in to fill the engineering jobs. Maybe they will demand that their kids learn algebra, and the schools will have to change.

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    One wonders if the educational background of the teachers isn’t more important than the whole math vs traditional math issue. We do lag behind other countries in having math teachers who have degrees in math–particularly at the middle school level, where teachers are frequently certified as K-8 generalists. NCLB offered us an opportunity to move away from that by requiring highly qualified status, but most states wimped out at the thought of actually dealing with the problem. So now we have non-degreed (in math) teachers who can say that they are “highly qualified” to teach math based on workshops plus experience. In special education it’s even worse, since the special education credential doesn’t require a degree in a content area at any grade level. My son has received “instruction” in biology, algebra and geometry from such folks (who are nonetheless very nice people, very caring, very tolerant, wonderful people). He can’t pass the tests, but thinking about the quality of teaching is off the table. Of course, we don’t let these people teach the “regular” kids.

  3. I am one of “those” math teachers who do not meet “the” guidelines as a real math teacher. I passed Calc III and Therodynamics in college and I meet the “Very Highly Qualified” standard under emergency certification for secondary school math.

    I fell into math teaching by accident (and love it, even though I teach those considered to be unteachable). My problems are not cirriculum based (though I wish I could get Saxon), my problem is that “Maria” is pregnant, “Katelyn” is under court ordered supervision, and “John” is on narcotics in class. I love the kids, but I have few avenues for discipline and some of them have me as their first adult male role-model (9th grade mostly).

    I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State, worked for Microsoft and the AZ Governer’s Office as a demographer. I can teach 2 step equations and slope-intercept to the unwillinging. Systems of equations will happen. I hope to teach about markets and monetary systems so they will have a hint of what is going on around them.

    However; because I lack a Math degree (from MAT or EDU) I find this bias from “real” teachers, both sad and unfortunate. Not all mana or wisdom comes from EDU courses.

    Very Respectfully,

    Z. Glazar

  4. Barry Garelick says:

    Margo/Mom’s comment is well-taken. Teacher knowledge is definitely important. I have seen cases, though, in which teacher’s are competent in math, but have to follow the curriculum as dictated by the poor textbook they are forced to use. Teachers can supplement of course, by designing a course on their own, using materials that are borrowed or copied, but it is a tall order. The teacher may still have to follow the order/sequence of the textbook being used–if the sequence of topics doesn’t follow good logic, then the supplementation can only go so far. Teachers may be able to explain what’s going on, but without the sequential mastery of a well thought out curriculum, they will be hard pressed to do a good job.

    Even college math professors who teach calculus and who know the topic extremely well, will rely on a textbook in which the sequence and presentation of topics has already been laid out. If forced to supplement a bad textbook this is an additional workload that not everyone can take on. In the elementary grades, it’s even more difficult to do so.

  5. Reality Czech says:

    At least we have Indian and Chinese immigrants coming in to fill the engineering jobs. Maybe they will demand that their kids learn algebra

    Too many of the other immigrants won’t care

  6. Ah, math teachers. And why can’t they supplement their text books? I’ve developed all my courses — from basic remedial to Advanced Placement [TM] from scratch. A few supplements, or swapping chapters, would not seem to be a big deal to me.

  7. I am a professional engineer. My work is inherently

    I have come to realize that the single biggest
    problem in mathematics education is to treat the
    subject as though it were separate from ordinary


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