In one district where I served briefly as a consultant, the first question asked by the writing committee was what rate of failure would be tolerated by the community. That question lurks just below the surface of the current push for national standards. It is hard to shake off the suspicion that, in order to show the world how advanced our standards are, some kids (perhaps many) will fail. If they do not, the standards will be considered too low and will be raised. Inevitably, some students will fail.
Advocates of national standards object that it is not their intention for children to fail. All kids will have better opportunities; the object is to leave no child behind. How will this be done? By generously insisting that all kids, regardless of interests or aptitudes, will take the standard academic subjects and be prepared for college. Some even argue that preparation for college and preparation for work should be identical. Pointing out the foolishness of this contention is material for another essay. Here, I want to concentrate on what our efforts in this direction have produced so far.
Students all over the country are now forced to take algebra and geometry. The result has been a proliferation of pseudo-courses in these subjects. I’ve observed these classes, and watched students plod through meaningless exercises manipulating meaningless symbols. As a former high school math teacher, this makes me angry. We could be teaching these kids some mathematics that would be useful in their present and future lives. Instead, we are engaged in pedagogical fraud. Many students who graduate from high school with “algebra” and “geometry” on their transcripts are disheartened to learn that they must start their college work with pre-algebra.
Friday, January 22, 2010
School Committee notes, coming up!
But in the meantime, here's a column that caught my eye this morning, on the drive to standardize and what it does to real learning: