Why are these kids doing so well?

Octavio Gutierrez previews lessons for students learning English. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

The kids are doing alright on Common Core tests in a small Los Angeles-area district, reports Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton. In Wiseburn Unified, low-income blacks, Latinos and English Learners significantly outperform similar students elsewhere.

In fact, the district’s 55 percent of the district’s low-income black students passed the English exam, 11 points above the state average for all students.

Statewide, only 13 percent of low-income black students passed in math. In Wiseburn, 29 percent passed, the largest percentage of any district with significant black enrollment.

Superintendent Tom Johnstone said the district started teaching math differently in 2009, before the Core.

In the lower grades, teachers get on the floor with their students to work with brightly colored blocks and chips to assess their mathematical thinking and problem-solving strategies. In the middle and upper grades, students spend whole class periods on a handful of math problems, rather than racing through reams of equations.

An engineering curriculum called Project Lead The Way has students work together to build things. Johnstone says that program has been key to getting young students – particularly girls and minorities underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields – interested in math, science and the robotics team, which competes in world championships.

In English Language Arts, Wiseburn gives English learners what amounts to 27 extra days of instruction, with previews of what they’ll learn later in the week in English together with their native English-speaking peers.

Wiseburn is a predominantly Latino district with a high tax base from nearby aerospace companies. It’s a district of choice: 43 percent of students have transferred in from neighboring districts with struggling schools.

However, success isn’t just a matter of parental buy-in and funding, Johnstone told Felton. “Much of this was accomplished during the fiscal crisis, when we weren’t able to give out any salary increases for five years.”

Math excellence — is it just for Asian-Americans?

Elite math competitions are “overwhelmingly dominated by Asian and white males from middle-class and affluent families, observes Liana Heitin in Education Week. Some are trying to diversify the talent pool by exposing lower-income students, girls, blacks and Latinos to advanced math.

A U.S. team won the International Math Olympiad last summer, the first win for Americans in more than two decades. Four competitors were Asian-American and two were white. All were male.

Students at the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program tackle a hard geometry problem. Credit: Evelyn Lamb

Students at the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program tackle a hard geometry problem. Photo: Evelyn Lamb

Future mathletes hone their skills in “after-school clubs, summer camps, online forums and classes, and university-based “math circles,” or mathematician-led groups,” writes Heitin.

Middle schoolers start in MathCounts, then move on to an online school called Art of Problem Solving. Some K-12 students get coaching from math professors. UCLA’s Los Angeles Math Circle has more than 250 students. Elites go to the Math Olympiad Summer Training Program, a three-week math camp.

Who knows about these opportunities? Well-educated Asian immigrant parents make sure their talented children participate. “There are a lot of kids whose parents made it to America by being good at math,” said Richard Rusczyk, founder of Art of Problem Solving.

Various initiatives are trying to get more kids into advanced math, writes Heitin.

A New York City-based nonprofit called Bridge to Enter Mathematics runs a residential summer program aimed at getting underserved, mostly black and Hispanic students working toward math and science careers. The summer after 7th grade, students spend three weeks on a college campus studying advanced math for seven hours a day. Over the next five years, the group helps the students get into other elite summer math programs, high-performing high schools, and eventually college.

MathCounts has added National Math Club, which gives resources to middle-school math teachers, and the Math Video Challenge, a team competition, to appeal to a broader range of students.

After the high-pressure Countdown round at this year’s national MathCounts competition, in which the top 12 students went head to head solving complex problems in rapid fire, the finalists for the Math Video Challenge took the stage to show their videos.

Half the video finalists were black and 13 of 16 were girls.

An 8th grade team from the Ron Clark Academy, an independent middle school in Atlanta that serves low-income students, was among the finalists. The students illustrated a complicated multistep problem entirely through rap.

“Three years ago, we were the only African-American people here,” said Valerie Camille-Jones, the team’s coach. “We won the video challenge, and [MathCounts] put it all over the website. The next year, more diverse videos were submitted because [students] saw themselves. It’s exposure.”

Her students watched the fast-paced Countdown round in which 12 students answered high-level math questions. “They turned to me and said, ‘We can do this.’ ”

Inventing the new, new math symbols

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Math with Bad Drawings suggests urgently needed math symbols.

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It’s math anxiety, not gender inequality

Math anxiety, not gender bias, explains why girls are less likely to pursue education and careers in STEM fields, according to a new study of student performance by 15-year-olds in more than 60 countries.

In less-developed countries, boys and girls fear math, the study found. The anxiety gap appears in developed countries with more gender equality, writes Rebecca Klein in the Huffington Post

Many believe that “as society became more gender equal, with more women in politics … and [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields and so forth, this would provide more role models, and therefore the gender differences in math anxiety and math performance would disappear,” David Geary, a University of Missouri psychology professor told Klein. “We found the opposite.”

The study found no link between the proportion of women working in STEM fields and teenage girls’ math anxiety.

Even when researchers control for performance, girls “still have more math anxiety than they should,” he said.

75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

Ambitious parents demand 8th-grade algebra

Educated parents want their kids to take algebra in eighth grade, so they’ll be ready for calculus in 12th grade, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington PostCommon Core is doing a lousy job of explaining why bright students should wait till high school to take algebra.

A student works in an eighth-grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

A student works in an eighth-grade algebra class at Holy Spirit School in East Greenbush, N.Y. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

Private schools aren’t cutting back on eighth-grade algebra, Mathews writes.

“Ambitious parents . . . are unlikely to tolerate delaying algebra, no matter what the experts say.”

Schools are dropping eighth-grade algebra or restricting access, according to Tom Loveless of Brookings. “The portion of eighth-graders in advanced math has declined from 48 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2015.”

Students who get an early start on algebra earn higher scores on AP exams, his research shows. Yet that opportunity is “more open to white and Asian students in suburban schools than to disadvantaged youngsters in schools serving students of color.”

Parents try Common Core math

Posted by BuzzFeed Video.

Tracking is linked to higher AP scores

Tracking in eighth grade — usually in math — correlates with higher scores on AP tests at the end of high school, concludes the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education.

In eighth grade, the tracking question currently boils down to whether high achieving students who are ready for a formal algebra course will get one—or whether all students will take the same general math course.

States with larger percentages of tracked eighth graders produce larger percentages of high-scoring AP test takers, the study found. “The heightened AP performance held across racial subgroups—white, black, and Hispanic.”

There was no relationship between tracking and and the number of students taking AP tests — just to the number who earned a 3, 4 or 5.

Another section looks at how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing instruction in math and reading.

Teachers are teaching more nonfiction in fourth and eighth grade, NAEP data show.

In addition, “data and geometry are receding in importance in fourth grade math, and course enrollments in eighth grade math are shifting away from advanced courses toward a single, general math course,” the report notes.

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco's Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco’s Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

That suggests fewer achievers will start on the path to passing AP Calculus.

San Francisco Unified middle schools no longer teach algebra, as part of the shift to Common Core standards, reported Ana Tintocalis for KQED last year.

For years, all eighth graders took algebra and many failed, said Lizzy Hull Barnes.  Now no one will take algebra till ninth grade.

This “is a social justice issue for SFUSD,” writes Tintocalis. “District officials say the controversial practice of tracking students — or separating them based on talent and ability — is simply wrong.”

Crazy about math

THUMBNAIL_IMAGE“Hell hath no fury like a mathematician whose child has been scorned by an education system that refuses to know better,” writes Barry Garelick in Math Education in the U.S.: Still Crazy After All These Years.

After a career in environmental protection, Garelick earned a teaching credential and began teaching and writing. He criticizes “the well-intentioned but highly injurious nonsense that passes for math education.”

“I often feel that I am explaining in detail why jumping out of an airplane without a parachute will result in death,” he writes.

Why the math curriculum makes no sense

“What would you do, if you could design high school math from scratch?” asks teacher Ben Orlin on Math with Bad Drawings. “Well . . . not what we do now,” he concludes. “The math curriculum makes no sense.”

We see math as an apartment building that’s been designed to stack one floor on another, writes Orlin. It’s more of a mountain.

Read the whole thing.