Judge blocks 8th-grade algebra mandate

California’s school board decided all eighth graders should be tested in algebra by 2012 in accordance with state standards. But a Superior Court judge has blocked mandatory algebra.

The state superintendent, local school boards, administrators and the teachers’ union say California doesn’t have enough qualified math teachers to get everyone ready for algebra in eighth grade.

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Comments

  1. Andy Freeman says:

    In a sane world, the judge would have sanctioned the school districts until they did have enough folks to meet the standards imposed on them.

    Schools don’t improve because they’re rewarded for other things. Schools won’t improve until failure to improve costs them.

  2. It would sure be interesting to see an argument that teachers, principles, and district officials actually have something to lose. Then it would be easier to believe that stronger accountability measures might actually make a difference. But with teacher turnover rates so high in the poor performing schools I have a hard time seeing how that will happen.

  3. As a teacher in a high needs district which routinely sees approximately 100 teachers leave the district every single year, this mandate was not feasible. As a parent with a student in said district who is being taught this year by a brand new math teacher, I also don’t see how this mandate was possible.

    Finally, to Andy Freeman, I’m curious as to who you think would be most be effected by your sanctions? Are you talking monetary sanctions? If you are, then please know that the people most often effected by money losses in school districts are usually students and teachers.

  4. Excellent idea, Andy.

    Let’s underpay Algebra teachers to the point that they want to go into other fields.

    Let’s then sanction the schools because society decides to under-support their teachers, who are leaving to better paying and more respected professions.

    In the end, the burden is on the students, who are going to have it worse in the classroom because you have a sub in there that has little idea what’s going on.

    Here’s the deal, once you start actually treating the profession with respect, including better pay, better respect from society, and better accountability, then you can start talking sanctions. Otherwise, you are simply beating down a profession that you refuse to support in the first place.

    Oh, and if you are going to start mentioning funding, let me know when it actually reaches my classroom. Otherwise, sanction the upper reaches of the system, not the teachers.

  5. Oh, and if you are going to start mentioning funding, let me know when it actually reaches my classroom. Otherwise, sanction the upper reaches of the system, not the teachers.

    And therein lies the damning problem. The more resources that are shoveled into public education, the less reach the students and teachers whose work is supposedly the raison d’être for the whole enterprise. Until the voters figure out that they’re money is going everywhere but the classroom and call for the heads of the greedy bureaucrats who made it so, the amount of support in each classroom can only get worse.

  6. In most cases, there is plenty of funding; it is just being misspent. Too much bureaucracy, too much paperwork/admin BS, too much incompetence, too many unnecessary union rules,too much corruption… see DC schools for a great illustration. Even classroom money isn’t being properly appropriated. It doesn’t make sense to pay for credentials/degrees unneeded for the job. I don’t feel that kindergarten teachers need a Master’s; a high school teacher with a Master’s (in subject area, NOT from the college of ed) in math or science is another thing. Pay extra for those people who have lucrative options outside of schools.

    Also, until the schools are safe and students forced to behave, high-needs schools/students will continue to suffer. The chronically dangerous students should be removed from regular schools and the “merely” disruptive should be disciplined.

    Once classrooms are safe and orderly, group everyone homogeneously by subject (thereby ensuring that every student has an 80% chance to master the material and that no students are unchallenged), provide a content-rich curriculum, phonics, math fundamentals and direct instruction. Only then will there be a real chance to get every student moving forward, as fast and as far as they can go. At that point, both administrators and teachers will have earned respect, and I think they will get it. Private schools, and now charters, have been doing it.

  7. Never mind the teachers. It’s absurd to pretend that all eighth graders are capable of algebra. This was a dictate driven by ideology, not by good pedagogy. The judge may have used a pretext to get around it, but I’ll take what we can get.

  8. I’ve been searching for a good explanation of what adequately funding public education means. So far I haven’t had any luck. So if you think you know what adequately funded education is, I’d appreciate any pointers you have.

    If you’re argument is that the adequate expenditure of tax dollars on education is zero, I think I already know where to look for those arguments.

  9. Cal said, “It’s absurd to pretend that all eighth graders are capable of algebra. This was a dictate driven by ideology, not by good pedagogy. The judge may have used a pretext to get around it, but I’ll take what we can get.”

    Well said, Cal. The sad part is that it took a judge to stop it. One would like–dare I say, dare–to think that educators would understand that very few students are prepared for Algebra I in 8th grade. Gee, most of my collge students haven’t mastered fractions, percents, decimals, and exponents yet, and cannot complete a long division problem without a calculator.

  10. Yes, this whole issue brings out how packaging education into age based grades can lead to some absurd results.

  11. Quoth anon:

    One would like–dare I say, dare–to think that educators would understand that very few students are prepared for Algebra I in 8th grade.

    My memories are fuzzy after all this time, but my (private) jr. high school taught algebra to the entire student body in either 7th or 8th grade.  9th grade was geometry, IIRC.

    OTOH, we were a selected group out of a high-achieving locale.

    Between grades 9 (private) and 10 (public), I took an algebra-trig course at the local community college and essentially bootstrapped myself a year ahead in math in about 10 weeks.  The text for that course was self-paced and printed on paper close to newsprint; providing millions of such books would be cheap, and if video lectures and Internet assistance could be provided as support, a substantial fraction of the nation’s high achievers could be freed from the tyranny of grades and allowed to soar.

  12. Well it’s nice to see that all the usual knees are jerking in the approved and expected manner.

    Any criticism of the public education, implied in an approving reference to accountability measures, is met with the usual hostility and defensiveness from members of the teaching profession but not, to any noticeable degree, by administrative personnel. Oh sure, you get the occasional non-teaching education professional to toe the party line but by and large the chore of shouting down heretics is performed by teachers. What’s interesting about that response is that with accountability comes respect and…..wait for it…..pay rates for those who help post great scores.

    Yes, as unlikely as it may seem, when the outcome matters, and is measured, those who contribute to the outcome get rewarded.

    It’s like a whole, new world opens up.

    Teachers who teach skillfully get paid on the basis of their skill!

    Administrators who help create an environment which makes the teacher’s job easy get rewarded for their cleverness!

    Administrators would actually *want* to hear what teachers have to say! Skillful teachers would be sought out by other teachers to help them improve their skills!

    *Textbook* publishers would want to hear from teachers!

    Useless administrative functionaries, especially those who think it’s their purpose in life to burden a teacher’s existence, would disappear like a cool breeze!

    Let me repeat that. It was just so much fun to type the first time.

    Useless administrative functionaries, especially those who think it’s their purpose in life to burden a teacher’s existence, would disappear like a cool breeze!

    Ed school profs peddling edu-crap, and the mind-numbing in-services that inevitably follow, would vanish!

    Heck, once the good teachers are readily identifiable the respect Coach Brown is whining about would be a lot more likely to show up as well.

  13. I’ve been searching for a good explanation of what adequately funding public education means. So far I haven’t had any luck. So if you think you know what adequately funded education is, I’d appreciate any pointers you have.

    pm –

    In the current bureaucratic system, you’ll find that there will never be enough resources in the classroom. You’ll also find that there’s a curve on how much money makes it to each classroom.

    Starting at $0/student and continuing on a few thousand/student, you’ll find the amount making it to the classroom aligns pretty closely with the amount spent. There is an allowance for administrative overhead, but that’s about it. Then, even though spending continues to increase, the amount reaching the classroom starts to decrease as self-interested bureaucrats sense an opportunity. At a point that looks to be between $7,000 and $9,000 per student, you’ll see a maximum amount of dollars that make it into the classroom. After that maximum, you see a slow decrease, even though the amount spent continues to increase.

    The reason for this is it only takes a bureaucracy a certain number of dollars to present the illusion that its devoted to its publicly stated mission. That’s why the left-part of this curve tracks pretty closely with the amount spent. When reaching the amount needed to keep up appearances, the bureaucracy inevitably turns towards self-preservation. This accounts for part of the curve just before the maximum. The maximum is the point at which the bureaucracy tips into full bureaucratic-preservation mode, and at which every new dollar, plus a few cents that would otherwise have gone towards the primary mission, are directed towards the preservation of the bureaucracy.

    Speaking from what I can see, the education system in the state of California is well beyond the maximum point, which means the best way to get more money in classrooms is to cut top-level budgets. Painful in the short term, but effective in the long-term.

  14. “maximum amount of dollars” should be “maximum amount of money” in the above.

  15. When the K-12 Math & Science teachers make as much as the coaches do, you’ll see an amazing change in the nation’s education system.

    Until then… Enjoy your football, basketball, softball, and volleyball!

  16. You couldn’t identify a good teacher, Allen. That’s part of the problem. You leave it to pundits and state test results to determine who is and is not a good teacher. Tell you what Allen, you bring on the accountability. What you are going to find is that the results are not going to be that much different because in the end, we can not control what kids do on their own time. It’s like when patients die under the care of fabulous doctors because they don’t want to take care of themselves.

    You’re not looking for good teachers, you’re looking for blame without pointing the finger at yourself. I’ll freely admit that there are bad teachers out there, but you are fooling yourself if you think that a minority of bad teachers is the main problem.

  17. One would like–dare I say, dare–to think that educators would understand that very few students are prepared for Algebra I in 8th grade.

    Perhaps the schools bear some responsibility for this lack of preparation? Given that the had the kids from grades 1 to 7? After all, kids in other countries are being taught algebra in grade 7 (http://www.math.wisc.edu/~askey/ask-gian.pdf, pages 11 and 12). There seems no reason to assume that American kids are genetically inferior.

    Coach Brown:

    I’ll freely admit that there are bad teachers out there, but you are fooling yourself if you think that a minority of bad teachers is the main problem.

    Did you bother reading Andy’s statement? He blamed school districts, not teachers (I base this on the fact that he called for the judges to sanction school districts, not teachers). For all I know Andy is fooling himself on subjects left, right and center, but he doesn’t deserve to be accused of thinking that a minority of teachers is the main problem.

    The argument that schools, and school administrators, are more to blame than individual teachers has I think a lot of merit. Look at the results of Project Followthrough – a whole-of-school intervention that drastically improved the performance of low-income kids. http://www.projectpro.com/ICR/Research/DI/Summary.htm
    And they did this despite being unable to control what kids do on their own time.

    Please, I know that teachers can have reasons to feel defensive, but just when someone criticises the school system, consider the possibility that they’re not thinking about you?

  18. Oh, I know what I’m looking for Coach and I don’t think they’re all that tough to find.

    After all, kids with a good teacher would learn more then kids with a lousy teacher, right? That is the reason the teacher’s in the classroom, isn’t it? To make sure learning occurs? So the kids with a good teacher will learn more then the kids with a lousy teacher. Measure the amount of learning that’s occurred and the good teacher gets a better score then the lousy teacher.

    It’s just like in sports, Coach.

    The team with the higher score at the end of the game wins. Then you define metrics for the team members related to that outcome – RBIs, ERA, pass-completions, whatever – and you determine which players made the greater contribution to the team’s win. Get rid of the weak players – sorry, that’s life – and the team does better.

    > You’re not looking for good teachers, you’re looking for blame without pointing the finger at yourself.

    Because it’s really all our fault?

    If society really cared about educating kids society would make sure that all kids came to school ready to learn, healthy, loved, well-fed and decently-clothed? Is that where you were going Coach?

    Gosh, that sort of boilerplate makes it seem as if the skill of the teacher is unimportant and the irony of it is, it’s true. Since learning doesn’t matter neither does teaching. That’s the reason you don’t get the respect you think you’re due. You’re already getting the respect you deserve.

  19. Andy Freeman says:

    > Let’s then sanction the schools because society decides to under-support their teachers, who are leaving to better paying and more respected professions.

    By sanctioning a district for failing to hire the folks that it needs to do its job, you force the district to do what it takes to hire those folks. These districts have the money – they’re just spending it elsewhere. Does anyone really want to argue that CA school districts aren’t spending lots of money on things that have nothing to do with education. (The teachers who comment on this blog constantly rant about money wasted in administration.)

    Yes, the district might resist and refuse. If so, you keep taking money away because if the district isn’t going to do what it’s supposed to do, there’s no point in giving it any money.

  20. Andy Freeman says:

    > Tell you what Allen, you bring on the accountability. What you are going to find is that the results are not going to be that much different because in the end, we can not control what kids do on their own time.

    I think that good teachers make a difference, that is, produce better educational outcomes than bad teachers. More to the point, I’m willing to pay for teachers who actually do make a difference.

    However, if good teachers can’t make a difference, I see no point in paying for them.

    Which brings me to my point – why do public school advocates keep saying that good teachers can’t make a difference? Do they really think that we’re going to pay for folks who don’t deliver what we’re paying for?

  21. Andy Freeman says:

    I just remembered my audience. Some of the commenters are likely to jump in with something like “but what happens when you take all the money from a district? The kids won’t have anywhere to go.”

    You start a new district, give it some money, and say “if you want to keep getting money, educate kids.” At some point, you’ll get a district that does that, and as long as it does, you keep giving it money.

    To those who find that too harsh, I’ll ask – why do we spend money on public education? If a given public education institution fails to deliver what we’re paying it to do, why should we give that institution money?

    The idea of “if you’re not going to deliver, we’re not going to pay” shouldn’t be too alien. How many folks would give money to a grocery store that didn’t give food in return? How many public education folks won’t buy the best food they can for a given amount of money, switching stores if it gets them a better deal? (I trust that I don’t have to explain why that’s relevant.)

  22. Quincy,

    What is the source for your numbers?

  23. So when businesses are underperforming usually removing the top management is the first step. Does anyone know how much flexibility school boards in CA have to fire superintendents? At least the school boards are elected, although I’m not sure that anyone pays close attention to who gets elected to those boards. I think thhat my district definitely works to get the “right” people on the board. So maybe we’re all just getting what we deserve, at least as a collective 🙂

  24. “I’m curious as to who you think would be most be effected by your sanctions?”

    Effected? Illiterate teachers, obviously.

  25. pm –

    There’s no specific source other than watching trends in spending in various districts and extrapolation based on known trends in bureaucracy. For example, Washington D.C. spends upwards of $15,000/student yet can barely manage to put enough money out to pay for housing teachers and students in dilapidated classrooms which may or may not contain textbooks. Compare this with schools systems that spend $7-9k/student and get far superior results. I can think of many examples throughout the country, including the one here in my suburban CA town.

    At the state level, though, CA spending is approximately $11,000/student. The district in my town gets roughly $7,000/student from them and does a fine job with it. Does it really take $4,000/student for the state Department of Education to do its job? I’d say not, but that’s how it works out.

    For more on the known trends in bureaucracies, search for Pournelle’s Iron Law and Gammon’s Law.

    Also, with regards to removing top management in CA, it’s damn near impossible. Top management of California schools is an elected position. Of course, to say it’s elected is to get only half the story. The CTA and NEA pick who they want the Democrats to put in the race, and that person gets the job. Quite the farce, actually.

  26. As I’ve written on my own blog, sales tax in California was 6% when I was a kid, and most counties didn’t have a county sales tax. Today the state sales tax is 7.25%, many counties have a sales tax, the governor and legislature want to increase the sales and income taxes to close the budget gap, and the California Teachers Association is filing an initiative that would raise an the sales tax an extra cent–with that money going to schools.

    I don’t know what percentage of the budget went to education when I was a kid, but it’s 50% of the state budget today.

    As a math teacher, I have a hard time believing that funding is the major problem in California’s schools. I will state, categorically, that there is an anti-education sub-culture in our society, or at least a sub-culture that doesn’t value education as much as many of us here on this blog would like. That sub-culture harmonizes rather well with certain ethnic groups, and it should be hard for any teacher to identify at least three ethnic groups wherein students consistently underperform.

    8th grade algebra is not only possible, it’s occurring all over the world. *American* culture doesn’t support it; that’s the problem, not the inaccessibility of algebra by 13-yr-olds.

  27. That should say “shouldN’T be hard” two paragraphs above. Apologies.

  28. Quincy,

    For the 2005-2006 school year the SARC for our CA elementary school claimed an expenditure of $7,000/student. For 2006-2007 the SARC claimed an expenditure of $5,000/student. For another elementary school in our district the 2005-2005 SARC claimed $9,000/student and in 2006-2007 it claimed $3,000/student. Our school does NOT receive Title 1 funds, but the other school does. So best I can tell these numbers are not what I am looking for, a simple expenditure per student regardless of funding source. The differences from year to year in these numbers are so large that I have a hard time considering them to be reliable and hence meaningful. My best guess is that politicians/school officials don’t want to concretely enumerate funding disparities. I’m sure everyone has a favorite attribution of motive.

    Since I don’t know where you got your numbers I’m not sure how to compare them with the ones I’ve listed above. At least the statewide number I have seems to be consistent around $11,000/student. So where is the money really going? Is the money going to district/state overheads, is the actual spending higher than reported, is the money going to other schools or school districts?

    Combining stories of grand new high school architecture with those of overcrowded schools does lead one to believe that there is waste in the system. But how much and where?

  29. pm –

    It’s impossible to get a concrete figure for the actual number of dollars reaching because bureaucrats don’t make that data available. If they did, they would be blowing the cover on the whole damn game.

    All I’m going on is the total spending per student at a particular level of bureaucracy and the *apparent* amount of money that reaches the classroom. My observation is that beyond a certain point, in the $7-9k / student range, bureaucracy actually starts crowding out education. That’s how you get schools that spend $15k / student where the teachers are underpaid and there aren’t enough textbooks or other resources.

    In my experience, about $7k reaching a local district from the $11k spent in Sacramento per student seems about right. Some districts get more when they’re perceived to be in need, and some get less. The real question is what value the CA DoE adds to the classroom experience to be worth $4k / student. That same question can be asked of every self-interested level of bureaucracy that prevents money from getting into classrooms.

  30. Different states use different criteria for determining dollars per pupil spending. The easiest, but least useful, way is to take the total budget expense and divide by the number of students.

    Why least useful? Because it doesn’t take into account special ed costs, which can be astronomical in some cases. $100-200K per special ed student per year is not unheard of. Especially in a small district, special ed costs can wildly skew the results.

    So, most districts in New York State take out the special ed portion of the budget expense, take out the number of special ed students, and then divide the cost by the number of students. That provides a somewhat accurate basis for comparison, if, that is, the cost of living (and therefore the teachers’ salaries & benefits) is the same.

    Trying to compare Upstate districts with Metro NYC (Orange, Rockland, Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties along with the City) is a fruitless exercise.

  31. Andy Freeman says:

    > Because it doesn’t take into account special ed costs, which can be astronomical in some cases. $100-200K per special ed student per year is not unheard of. Especially in a small district, special ed costs can wildly skew the results.

    Large variations due to chance in the percentage of special ed students will only occur in fairly small districts.

    If the percentage of special ed students varies widely, that in and of itself is interesting. It might be due to the environment or it might tell us something about diferent districts.

    As to the spending per student, that too is interesting. As with other students, the value received matters.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Joanne Jacobs reports that “California’s school board decided all eighth graders should be tested in algebra by 2012 in accordance with state standards. But a Superior Court judge has blocked mandatory algebra. The state superintendent, local school boards, administrators and the teachers’ union say California doesn’t have enough qualified math teachers to get everyone ready for algebra in eighth grade.” […]