Monday, July 21, 2008

School systems have to balance needs of advanced students with underprivileged, under NCLB, under budget pressures

The current economic pressures on school systems may be compromising the ability to fund math and science education for top students. When resources are limited, there is a tendency to wonder if “no child left behind” means that resources must be spent on lower performing an disadvantaged students, even as a “social justice” or ‘fairness” matter.

The DC Examiner has a Monday morning story by Leah Fabel, “Math whiz says district’s failure to fund team just doesn’t add up.” The story refers to Montgomery County, MD, one of the highest income counties in the United States, and its inability in a $2 billion budget for its school system to find $10000 for its math teams. The issue is described from the viewpoint of one high school student, Jacob Hurwitz (it’s not clear, but he may be graduated now). The print article and article shows him solving a strange math problem on the blackboard with chalk (no, not a modern white board wired to the Internet). It looks like geometry, but if you try to read the words, it looks more like topology, which I didn’t think was taught in high school (differential calculus is taught at McLean High School and presumably Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County).

The link is here.

I digress here for a moment. In 1962, one of my best friends had a blackboard in his bedroom in suburban Maryland, and at one time would work calculus problems (“hard to motivate” integration by partial fractions) on it. He later got obsessed with chess, and wound up getting drafted and going to Vietnam. But he survived.

Today, The Washington Post offers a column (on p A15 in print, with the editorials) by Joseph Lieberman, “A Lesson for D.C. Schools,” about the work of controversial Michelle Rhee, chancellor of District of Columbia public schools, in introducing performance based standards for teachers, with much emphasis on connecting with disadvantaged students. As with Prince Georges County, MD in recent stories, there is emphasis on breaking away from union-based seniority systems, and introducing teacher-performance systems that require both academic credentials and a real interest in working with less advantages students. The link is here (it may require registration).

But what is the next generation of young adults going to need to solve the global warming and energy crisis: math and science education, at the highest levels.

Update: July 24

The District of Columbia School system will require teachers expecting incentive pay to work under probation, and loss of seniority can mean that when schools are closed, some teachers will have to sell themselves to individual principals. The story (Metro, P B01, Washington Post) by Bill Turque is "Pay-Hike Plan for Teachers In D.C. Entails Probation," link here.

Update: July 26

The Washington Post has an article by Jay Matthews, "At Thomas Jefferson, 2.8 is Tantamount to Failure." Thomas Jefferson, with young Mathematics Education and Instructional Technology Ph D Evan Glazer as principal, is the magnate school for top high school students in Northern Virginia, run by the Fairfax County system. The link is here. There is a requirement to keep a B average to remain there (like graduate school!) The story is specific in printing an account of a problem over a history grade with a specific student and teacher. On July 29, Raw Fisher added a Post op-ed on p B3, "When Elitism goes off the deep end," here, with more discussion this one kid's performance (and some speculation, making him a cause celebre), grade inflation. "A B-minus isn't flunking out in anybody's eyes. Defining it as an unacceptable, shameful performance only means this school's sense of judgment is way off."

I never subbed there, but I did see that there obviously were some top students, as in the calculus courses, at a number of other schools (Yorktown, McLean, Langley, Madison, West Potomac, and so on).

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