Diagnosing RI’s Problem with the Third “R”
According to Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo, a statewide mathematics “summit” held yesterday at Rhode Island College identified the following areas as contributing to the state’s 22%-proficiency rate in high-school math achievement…
Seeing the “tracking” item on this list worries me. One well-known problem with standards established by remote bureaucracies — in education and elsewhere — is that, if not carefully thought-out, they can incentivize taking resources away from people and practices that are working best, i.e. already well-exceeding the standard. California’s superintendent of public instruction explained this phenomenon to Time Magazine last year…
- Some classroom teachers lack deep content knowledge in math, which makes it impossible for them to help their students reach the higher standards.
- Many schools continue to “track” students, steering some students into easier math classes and away from higher-level algebra, geometry and calculus courses demanded by colleges and needed by today’s work force.
- Students are too dependent on calculators and lack the ability to perform high-level work on their own.
- Teachers are struggling to “differentiate instruction,” preventing them from adequately helping non-traditional learners, special-education students and others who find math challenging.
The do-or-die [adequate yearly progress] system creates perverse incentives. It rewards schools that focus on kids on the edge of achieving grade-level proficiency….There’s no incentive for schools to do much of anything for the kids who are on grade level or above, which is one reason the law is unpopular in wealthier, high-achieving communities. And sadly, says [California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell], “NCLB provides no incentive to work on the kids far below the bar.”Identifying tracking as a problem, in effect saying that it’s OK to slow down the progress of more-proficient mathematics students, as long as a shift in emphasis helps speed up the progress of less-proficient ones, is a classic example of this.