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. 

Also this:

These questions have nothing to do with Trump! Why would our news orgs care?

Starting tomorrow: The latest "schools that work"


  1. May we suggest, dear Bob, that you read too much WaPo, the scummy neocon publication?

    Just like you stopped watching Rachel and other talking-head dembots perhaps it's time to minimize reading scummy neocon publications now? Just a suggestion...

  2. What about attaching weights to the physically stronger children? We need to address these inequities at once.

    1. Instead of the vulnerable?
      Pretty unorthodox for the USA, but worth the try.

  3. '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.'

    Students should be taught stats. For instance, if someone were to spend 97% of their political posts defending Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz and trashing those who presume to criticize the aforementioned, what does statistics tell us about that blogger ?

    Answer: To a statistically significant degree, that blogger (i.e. TDH) is a Trumptard. A would be useful idiot for Trump, although Somerby's ineffectiveness means he is really a 'useless idiot'

  4. The point of tracking high ability children through early math classes at a younger age is so that they can complete more courses before reaching college. That tends to save their parents money and to help them graduate from lengthy grad programs earlier, so that they do not have to put off starting a family and beginning a career. For example, my daughter completed many of her introductory and GE college courses in high school and was able to complete her B.S. degree a year and a half early. Her training ultimately included that B.S., medical school, a 3-year residency and then a fellowship in pulmonary medicine and critical care, which qualified her to treat covid patients during the pandemic. Cutting time off that training at the beginning is a boon to both the students and those paying for their education.

    Somerby has no interest in the needs of high performing students. His focus is only on the other students. In that sense, he is neglecting those at the high end, as is traditional in our school systems, under the assumption that they will do fine without any extra attention. It is certainly true that if they would do well in algebra in 7th grade, they will ace the same test in 10th grade. But what might they have been doing instead? No test can measure that. Somerby doesn't seem to care what such kids do with themselves in classes that are at best too easy and at worst demotivating, leading to kids who may drop out or cause trouble for teachers and themselves. This de-tracking does not meet the needs of highly gifted students at all. The ones without wealthy parents will be stuck, including those who are ethnically or racially diverse (and yes, they do exist).

    Somerby's essay today evades responsibility for really grappling with such issues. His response to studies is essentially a big shrug, and he blames reporters for the same failure he displays, as he avoids thinking about what those test scores mean.

    Gifted kids are people too. This isn't a matter of sacrificing them to diversity, since gifted kids can be diverse too. It is a matter of assuming that when you learn math doesn't matter as long as you learn it eventually, and that is not true for all students. During a time when our nation needs its scientists more than ever, we shouldn't be shortchanging the children who can succeed in such careers. Who is advocating for them? Clearly not Somerby.

    1. Clearly not Somerby, indeed.

      We’ve gone from it being unreasonable to expect kids to round-up, to “check the big box”, and to take math classes with soulless word problems devoid of the mention of social justice issues, to chiding Bob for wanting to dump the gifted kids.

      That’s not the position he took, so maybe there should be more of an emphasis on reading comprehension in schools.

      Of course, getting rid of gifted classes altogether was fine time back when the blog was about Mayor de Bladio suggesting it.

      Anonymices, peddle like hell. Backwards and forwards, depending upon which direction they imagine Bob is heading.

    2. The part where that sentiment doesn’t make sense on a blog that isn’t yours to screen.

    3. You don't belong here. Go away.

    4. I do belong here. It’s an open to the public bog.

    5. You.Don't.Belong.Here.Go.Away

    6. Unless Bob is voluntary hanging from your ceiling with a ball strapped in his mouth and a keyboard dangling in front him while you’re holding a whip... I belong here.

    7. I don’t don’t what it is, but you ain’t right.

    8. Cecelia is trolling you by pretending she doesn't know the Republican Party is a bunch of bigots.
      Don't let her act fool you. No one is that clueless.

    9. I do think there is a growing sense of anxiety and even
      anger in the country over the feeling that the game is rigged.

    10. The game is always rigged, my friend.

      It's just that the liberal-hitlerian cult that's in control these days seems particularly sickening.

      Personally, we would much prefer standard "God Family Country" bullshit to depraved liberal absurdities.

    11. Mao,
      That you favor God Family Country over the equality of black people, isn't exactly "news".

    12. Only in Africa you can be truly free from the pressure to "act white", dear dembot. So, it's back to Africa for you. Bye-bye and best of luck, dear.

    13. Mao,
      You were much funnier when you pretended you didn't love the Establishment.
      This warmed-over George Wallace shtick you're running with now, is Cecelia-level painfully unfunny.

  5. Schools should be identifying the individual needs of each student and then developing a plan to meet those needs. A one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to go.

    Here is an example from my own schooling. I was gifted in math and ultimately had a career in AI and quantitative methods, after being a computer scientist for a few decades. In my middle school, I was in a math class with two boys who were also talented in math. They were offered the chance to study math independently and excused from the class. I was not. They ultimately went on to grad school and became professors at prestigious universities. I became a professor too, but only after a long detour and a great deal of struggle that they didn't encounter. Why the difference? I was female and they were male. That teacher never considered offering me the same opportunity, even though I could have benefitted from it. Being overlooked, receiving no guidance or counseling, having to fight for opportunities offered freely to others, results in wasted talent. Schools should not be in the business of applying stereotypes and closing the door to students because they overlook their needs. That is what this de-tracking sounds like to me. The methods for identifying and helping students individually, based on their needs and abilities, are more complicated than de-tracking and placing everyone in the same program, but the impact on those students left behind is not only grossly unfair but it robs our society of talent. When faced with emerging challenges involving technology, we cannot afford to be doing that and someone needs to start saying so. Obviously, it would be Somerby, since he thinks expertise is bunk, concern for gifted kids is elitism, and he perhaps thinks all bright kids will waste their time in college the way he obviously did. Unfortunately, Somerby is wrong about that.

    1. Like @2:35 I was talented at math. Even with tracking, I developed lazy work habits in math class. I also learned less math than I might have. A fully de-tracked system would have been even worse for me.

      But, would it help students with less math talent to have people like me in their class? That's not clear. Would other students be inspired or discouraged by being in class with more math-talented students?

    2. Color me not surprised that you're a troll, who pretends you don't understand basic mathematics.

    3. David,
      Thanks for letting us know you understand that blacks are harassed and shot by cops at a much higher rate than white people, but you cosplay that you don't because you're a bigot.

    It is a very hard situation when playing the lottery and never won, or keep winning low fund not up to 100 bucks, i have been a victim of such a tough life, the biggest fund i have ever won was 100 bucks, and i have been playing lottery for almost 12 years now, things suddenly change the moment i came across a secret online, a testimony of a spell caster called dr emu, who help people in any type of lottery numbers, i was not easily convinced, but i decided to give try, now i am a proud lottery winner with the help of dr emu, i won $1,000.0000.00 and i am making this known to every one out there who have been trying all day to win the lottery, believe me this is the only way to win the lottery.

    Dr Emu can also help you fix this issues

    (1)Ex back.
    (2)Herbal cure & Spiritual healing.
    (3)You want to be promoted in your office.
    (4)Pregnancy spell.
    (5)Win a court case.

    Contact him on email
    What's app +2347012841542
    Website Https://