TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2021
Instead, the Mathews column: How should our public schools teach math?
More specifically, should math instruction be "de-tracked?" Should higher achievers and lower achievers all take the same math classes, right through the end of tenth grade?
Should everyone wait until grade 9 to take Algebra 1? Should everyone take Geometry in grade 10? Should students be free to "accelerate" after that?
These are the questions at hand.
In last Saturday's Washington Post, a lengthy report by Laura Meckler examined the current debate concerning such questions.
Meckler mentioned several schools or school systems which feel they've successfully "de-tracked" math. For various reasons, the prime example was a long-standing, highly-regarded school, South Side High.
Should everyone take the same math classes right through the end of tenth grade? At least as presented, this is the story from South Side:
MECKLER (6/19/21): The battle over tracking is another chapter in an intense national debate over how schools can create a more equitable system for students of color and whether changes will threaten other students, many of them White, who are benefiting from existing advantages.
Where some see a long overdue reckoning with systemic racism, others see an unsettling and overly broad focus on matters of race, and a threat to children who are succeeding in the current system.
“It tends to be a very complicated issue around socioeconomics, around race, around privilege and around ableism—who is high ability and who is not,” said Carol Corbett Burris, who de-tracked courses at South Side High School in suburban Rockville Centre, N.Y., when she was principal two decades ago and now runs the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group. “Lots of schools attempt to do it in a very well-meaning way only to get pushback.” Recent research from South Side High found that de-tracking led more students to take advanced courses later in high school, with overall scores in those classes rising or staying flat.
As reported, it sounded like math instruction at South Side High was "de-tracked" two decades ago. That passage doesn't explicitly say that South Side's de-tracking of math goes back that far, but that's pretty much how it sounded.
Most promisingly, Meckler mentioned "recent research" concerning math achievement at the school. According to Meckler, this research found that more kids were taking advanced math classes at the end of high school as a result of de-tracking. Also this:
Scores in those classes had risen, or had at least stayed flat, even as student enrollment grew.
That's what the research is said to have found. Meckler provided a link to the research. You can peruse it here.
Should public schools "de-track" math education? As becomes clear in Meckler's report, different people have different opinions.
In her lengthy report, Meckler offers an overview of the roiling debate. The Washington Post should be congratulated for offering a glimpse of a public education issue which might actually matter to millions of kids, not just to the higher-performing handful of kids who might end up at Yale.
Should public schools "de-track" math? In Meckler's review of the topic, South Side High is the only example of de-tracking which seems to be offering upbeat claims based on actual research.
In large part for that reason, we'd planned to focus on South Side High—it's Howard Stern's alma mater!—as we moved ahead.
Today, we announce a postponement. Yesterday, along came this column by Jay Mathews, with claims about the latest schools which have allegedly shown the world the best ways to succeed.
Starting tomorrow, we're going to focus on Mathews' column. South Side will have to wait!
We've long been fans of Mathews' work; we share the old school system tie. When he was at Hillsdale High, we were three miles up the Alameda at Aragon, the newly-designated rival to the older, creaking school.
We love the tone Mathews brings to his work, largely because it differs from ours. That said, our basic reaction to claims about "schools that work" tends to differ from his.
We've long been fans of Mathews' work. We aren't in love with yesterday's column, in which he reports upbeat claims made in a new book.
It's hard to evaluate the upbeat claims Mathews reports. The weaknesses in yesterday's column foreshadow the difficulties involved in evaluating claims about de-tracking math.
It's hard to evaluate claims of this type; our news orgs rarely try. Also, we're still trying to evaluate the research about South Side High!
Should public schools "de-track" math? Would more kids end up taking advanced math classes by the time they finish high school? Would higher- and lower-achieving kids end up doing just as well in those challenging classes, possibly even better?
Those are difficult questions! In part for that reason, you'll rarely see those questions explored by the news orgs we love in Our Town.
Those are difficult questions. Also, journalists may have to pick their way through actual research! As a general matter, our highly-educated, upper-end journalists aren't strongly inclined to do that.
These questions have nothing to do with Trump! Why would our news orgs care?
Starting tomorrow: The latest "schools that work"