Thursday, September 13, 2007
Lowest Common Denominator
Summer was nice. I wrote about lots of stuff that interested me, about my travels and about my city exploration. Now I am back to my whining and even I am getting tired of listening to me.
This term I am teaching the first term of Math B, for the first time. The kids all passed the Math A regents so, theoretically, they should be proficient in algebra skills and understand the basics of geometry. Unfortunately, what they should know is not necessarily what they do know.
I began the term discussing three concepts--median, altitude and angle bisector of a triangle. I spent TWO DAYS on these three little concepts, drawing pictures, using colored chalk and stressing each word in the problem. Some of the kids just couldn't get it. And then there were the related algebra problems. I have kids that don't know how to solve a basic equation.
Luckily, not all of them are this limited. But, because I hate to leave any kid out, I find myself spending too much time going over the basics, the things they should know from last year but don't. And, I don't think it is because they have forgotten, they just never knew them.
I would love to blame last year's math teachers for this deficit. If I did, I would be one of the worst culprits when it comes to pushing kids ahead. I taught two regents classes last year. I passed the kids that passed the regents, even when I knew their knowledge was very limited. When kids have to repeat a class after the regents is passed, they don't take it seriously. We know how stupid and easy the regents is. They don't. Repeating the course would have made no sense. The math A curriculum is awful. It doesn't teach real math skills. Almost any student can be taught to pass the regents if they know how to use a calculator. A scientific one will do just as well as a graphing one. The kids I passed that didn't know much need to pass to get that diploma. The diploma might only open a door to a job sweeping floors at UPS, but it opens the door just the same. When I went to school there were different types of diplomas. Kids that were not academically motivated or gifted, could still get a diploma. That is not true today. Everyone is college material.
So, where does that leave us? NCLB is leaving all our kids behind. The brightest kids are being deprived of a challenging education because I (and others) are too busy trying to reach everyone. The kids at the bottom might now be able to pass, but they are not learning anything, at least nothing useful.
If the politicians really care that no child is left behind, the curriculum must be changed so everyone can benefit from a high school diploma.