The Washington Post has been undergoing design changes, so I nearly missed the Local Opinions piece by Eric Walstein, “Montgomery’s Math Miscalculation,” hidden in the Metro section of today’s paper. Walstein is a teacher in the vaunted MCPS Science, Mathematics, Computer Science high school magnet program and he has some damning words for what’s been happening to the math curriculum in MCPS. Writes Walstein:
I have the privilege of teaching some of the best young minds in the United States. But even as standardized test scores have risen and the county has claimed great strides in math instruction, our program has had to offer a week of remedial math classes during the summer for our entering ninth-graders….
Students found many of the ideas of algebra and geometry foreign, reporting that many core ideas had never been taught. This process of giving summer math help has been going on for five years now, and the knowledge trend has been down each year. This is a direct consequence of policy decisions of the Montgomery County Board of Education to eliminate course objectives, to push students to take algebra earlier — often before they are ready — and to rely heavily on calculators….
A Montgomery school official once told me that calculators are important because they give more students “access to math.” That’s wrong. They give students access to answers disconnected from math concepts. Many of my current students complain that curriculum acceleration made them move too quickly without proper understanding. Take the calculators away, as we did, and even the county’s brightest bulbs now get a failing grade on material they supposedly have learned with top marks.
As I’ve written here before, this echos the concerns that many parents have been voicing about the math curriculum: too fast, too superficial, with whole swaths glossed over before true mastery has been achieved. And these are magnet students Walstein is talking about here. The same ones that have been tested to within an inch of their lives to get into this program and who will no doubt, once Walstein and Co. are through with them, go on to reap Intel Science awards.
A few weeks ago M. received the course selection materials for next year, which she brought home to me. The recommendation for math? That she take Algebra in 7th grade. Now I love my kid and thinks she’s the smartest thing since sliced bread, but based on her grades and what I know about her math abilities I have to say I had serious reservations about that recommendation. Of course it’s all moot now. She’ll be homeschooling and we’ll be able to take it at a pace and depth that we know she’ll be really learning it, rather than hitting some MCPS target for “accessing” accelerated curriculum.