## U.S. students win Math Olympiad — again

U.S. Math Olympiad team members Ankan Bhattacharya, Allen Liu, Ashwin Sah, Michael Kural, Yuan Yao and Junyao Peng. Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

It’s hard to miss the hype for the Rio Olympics, writes Michael Mazenko on A Teacher’s View. But very few know that U.S. mathletes won the 2016 International Math Olympiad in Hong Kong last month. For the second year in a row. U.S. students beat competitors from China (Shanghai), South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

This is “just one more example of how in America we are ignoring our best and brightest,” writes Mazenko.

“This year’s IMO featured an unusually large number of non-standard problems which combined multiple areas of mathematics into the same investigation,” Po-Shen Loh, coach of the U.S. team, wrote in the New York Times:

The most challenging problem turned out to be #3, which was a fusion of algebra, geometry, and number theory. On that question, the USA achieved the highest total score among all countries, ultimately contributing to its overall victory — a historic repeat #1 finish (2015 + 2016), definitively breaking the 21-year drought since the last #1 finish in 1994, and the first consecutive #1 finish in the USA’s record.

Here’s IMO 2016 Problem 3:

Let P = AA2 … Ak be a convex polygon on the plane. The vertices A1, A2, …, Ak have integral coordinates and lie on a circle. Let S be the area of P. An odd positive integer n is given such that the squares of the side lengths of P are integers divisible by n. Prove that 2S is an integer divisible by n.

It’s as impossible for me as the gymnastics floor exercise. Does anyone have a clue how to tackle this problem?

## (Ex-)boy wins state honors in girls’ track

Tia Goward, “Ice” Wangyot and Joei Vidad competed in the 200-meter sprint in the 2016 Alaska State Track Championships in Anchorage. Photo: Bob Hallinen/Alaska Dispatch News

A (biological) boy won all-Alaska honors in girls’ track and field, reports the Daily Caller.  Nattaphon “Ice” Wangyot, 18, who identifies as a girl, won fifth place in the 100-meter dash and third place in the 200-meter.

“I’m glad that this person is comfortable with who they are . . . but I don’t think it’s competitively completely 100-percent fair,” said Saskia Harrison, who just failed to qualify for the finals.

“Genetically a guy has more muscle mass than a girl, and if he’s racing against a girl, he may have an advantage, ” another runner, Peyton Young,  told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Wangyot, who moved to Alaska from Thailand two years ago, also competed in girls volleyball and girls basketball earlier this school year.

Is it fair to let someone who’s physically male compete against girls?

## Prizes for none — except for sports

A number of Boston private schools no longer give academic prizes and honors “to keep those who don’t get them from feeling bad,” writes Concord Review creator Will Fitzhugh. However, these schools haven’t stopped keeping score in games or honoring elite athletes. It’s OK to excel in sports.

Andra Manson broke the high jump record for high school boys by jumping 7 feet, 7 inches.

The Boston Globe devotes about 150 pages a year to covering high school sports and one page a year to naming valedictorians at public high schools, he writes.

“We are comfortable encouraging, supporting, seeking and celebrating elite performance in high school sports,” writes Fitzhugh.  “We seem shy, embarrassed, reluctant, ashamed, and even afraid to encourage, support, and acknowledge — much less celebrate —outstanding academic work by high school students.”

When [mid-20th century] I was in a private school in Northern California, I won a “gold” medal for first place in a track meet of the Private School Conference of Northern California for the high jump [5’6”] — which I thought was pretty high.

My “peers” in the Bay Area public high schools at the time were already clearing 6 feet, but I was, in fact, not in their league.

. . . The current boys high school record, set in July 2002, by Andra Manson of Kingston, Jamaica, at a high school in Brenham, Texas, is 7 feet, 7 inches. [high jump, not pole vault].

Knowing that the record was moving up, a large group of high school athletes was motivated to work harder and jump higher, Fitzhugh concludes.

## Playing the transgender trump card

A Maine school district will pay \$75,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit because a transgender girl (who’s biologically male) was told to use a private staff restroom, rather than the girls’ room, reports AP.

Nicole Maines was using the girls’ bathroom in her Orono  elementary school until the grandfather of a fifth-grade boy complained to administrators.

Physically male students will share locker rooms and showers with girls, warned the Minnesota Child Protection League.

“Just the mere presence of a male in a girls’ bathroom I can tell you is going to make those girls feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and the potential for them to be emotionally distraught over that certainly exists,” said Michele Lentz, state coordinator for the Minnesota Child Protection League.

In addition, girls will have to compete with bigger, more muscular males, said Lentz.

Only about five transgender students a year in the entire country ask to be on a team that’s not aligned with their birth gender, said Helen Carroll, sports project director for The National Center for Lesbian Rights.

. . . A 2011 NCAA report found that transgender athletes had no competitive advantage over non-transgender athletes.

Sharing showers isn’t a problem, because transgender girls “are very private people,” said Carroll.  “They want to have privacy areas in the locker room, they don’t want to shower with other students.”

What if a transgender girl wants to assert her right to use the locker room like other girls?

## No more school sports?

Sayreville High canceled its football season in response to charges of locker room assaults.

A New Jersey high school canceled its football season after seven varsity players were charged with hazing and sexually assaulting younger players.

Should high schools eliminate sports teams? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

## ‘Just Move’ stamps declared ‘unsafe’

The U.S. Postal Service will destroy the entire press run of “Just Move” stamps because of safety concerns, reports Linn’s Stamp News.

Three of the stamps in the 15- stamp series show children performing a cannonball dive, skateboarding without kneepads, and doing a headstand without a helmet. That’s unsafe, according to members of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

Michelle Obama, who’s been trying to encourage children to be more active, has popularized the “Just Move” slogan. She was set to take part in a first-day ceremony for the stamps — until someone decided kids need a helmet to do a headstand.

The campaign will need a new slogan: If you’re swaddled in protective gear and supervised by a certified adult, move. But be careful.

I keep looking for evidence this is a hoax. So far, nothing.

Hit & Run, which has pictures of all the “Just Move” stamps, finds more safety horrors: The baseball player isn’t wearing a helmet!

And what about the kid cartwheeling without a P.E. teacher’s supervision? The rope climber might fall!

## High school sports support academics

Schools with strong athletic programs have higher test scores and lower drop-out rates, write Daniel H. Bowen & Collin Hitt in The Atlantic. Amanda Ripley’s cover story, The Case Against High-School Sports, is a lot of hooey, they argue.

Success in sports programs creates “social capital” — or reflects the fact that it’s already there, they theorize.

The success of schools is highly dependent on social capital, “the norms, the social networks, and the relationships between adults and children that are of value for the child’s growing up,” wrote sociologist James Coleman.

The need to build trust and social capital is even more essential when schools are serving disadvantaged and at-risk students. Perhaps the most promising empirical evidence on this point comes from a Chicago program called Becoming A Man–Sports Edition.

In this program, at-risk male students are assigned for a year to counselors and athletic coaches who double as male role models. In this partnership between Chicago Public Schools, Youth Guidance, and World Sport Chicago, sports are used to form bonds between the boys and their mentors and to teach self-control. The usual ball and basket sports are sometimes played, but participants are also trained in violent sports like boxing at school.

Applicants were chosen by lottery.  According to a 2013 evaluation, the sports program “creates lasting improvements in the boys’ study habits and grade point averages. During the first year of the program, students were found to be less likely to transfer schools or be engaged in violent crime. A year after the program, participants were less likely to have had an encounter with the juvenile justice system.”

If schools dropped sports teams, middle-class kids would have opportunities to play sports out of school, Bowen and Hitt conclude. Affordable access would be limited for low-income students.

## Is it time to give football the boot?

American high schools care more about sports than academics, charges Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic.

Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.

To cut costs, the district had already laid off eight employees and closed the middle-school campus, moving its classes to the high-school building; the elementary school hadn’t employed an art or a music teacher in years; and the high school had sealed off the science labs, which were infested with mold. Yet the high school still turned out football, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and baseball teams each year.

Football at Premont cost about \$1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just \$618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone.

Without football, Premont focused on academics. There were fewer fights. Eighty percent of the students passed their classes in the first sports-free semester, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.

Now out of debt, Premont brought back baseball, track, and tennis.

Competitive sports dominate childhood for higher-class families, writes Hilary Levey Friedman.

## A school that puts physical education first

Physical education comes first at Urban Dove Team Charter School in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood, reports CBS News. High school students spend the first three hours of every day working out with their team mates and coaches.

They play basketball, lift weights, jump rope, use punching bags, ride bikes, and do yoga. Students rotate sports depending on the season.

. . . When kids go to Social Studies, English and Math, their coaches go with them . . . sitting in class, helping with homework, and sorting out problems.

If a student walks out of class, coach Alana Arthurs follows to ask “What’s wrong?” She wants to know “how can I get you back in the classroom so you can continue to learn.”

Ninety-three percent of students come from low-income families; one third are in special education. The school recruits “overage/under-credited students” with poor attendance records.

Jai Nanda developed the school after running an after-school sports program for inner-city kids, Urban Dove. He saw teens who’d attend school only if they were playing on a sports team. When the season ended, they stopped showing up.

Three hours a day for sports is an awful lot, but nothing else has worked for these kids.

## It’s a smart world after all

Journalist Amanda Ripley’s “riveting” new book, The Smartest Kids in the World, shows why U.S. students don’t perform as well as many European and Asian students, writes Dana Goldstein in The Daily Beast. It’s the culture, stupid.

According to the OECD, 20 countries have higher high school graduation rates than the United States. Among developed nations, our children rank 17th in reading and 31st in math. Even Poland, with high child poverty rates similar to our own, boasts stronger student achievement and faster system-wide improvement.

Ripley follows three American teenagers studying abroad in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. They discover “high schools that are deeply, even shockingly, enamored of intellectualism,” writes Goldstein.

In the U.S., most teachers earned about average grades and test scores when they were in high school and college. But in Finland, it is as competitive to become a public school teacher as it is to gain acceptance into an Ivy League university. There are no shortcuts into the classroom—prospective teachers must earn a master’s degree, write a research-driven thesis, and spend a full year in a teaching residency, observing master educators at work and practicing lessons and classroom management.

While few of us would want to subject our children to South Korea’s insane levels of testing stress, that nation at least shows kids that academic achievement is valued. On the morning of the national college entrance exam, the stock market opens an hour late, to clear the roads for 600,000 nervous students. Younger kids line up outside schools to cheer as their peers enter to take the nine-hour test. The scene, Ripley observes, is “like boxers entering a ring for a fight.”

In all three nations, schools don’t sponsor sports teams, Ripley writes. Kids who want to play a sport organize their own games, join a community program or hire a coach. Schools are for academics.

Children who can’t meet high expectations are allowed to fail.

Ripley believes that compared with their counterparts abroad, too many American educators rely on poverty as an excuse for poor student achievement. . . .

A  Finnish teacher tells Ripley that he doesn’t feel empathy for his immigrant students, “because I have to teach. If I thought about all of this too much, I would give better marks to them for worse work. I’d think, ‘Oh you poor kid. Oh, well, what can I do?’ That would make my job too easy.”

Compassion is “what really matters in education,” writes Carol Lach, who just retired from the Massachusetts Department of Education, in Ed Week.  She quotes a junior high student she taught 40 years ago:  “Why should I care about your math if you don’t care about me?”