Montgomery County admits kids were pushed too hard in math
The highly-touted Montgomery County Public School system in Maryland has just admitted that it has been pushing a lot of kids to do accelerated math when they weren’t ready for it, and now will stop it.
That means that a lot of parents in the wealthy county could lose valuable bragging rights at cocktail parties when the subject of kids comes up, as it too often does in these parts: “You won’t believe what happened to Joey today in algebra. You know of course that my fourth grader is taking algebra.” Or: “What level is Susie on in math? Ohhh. Only on grade level?"
Montgomery County is one of the highest achieving school systems in the county. It is so well regarded that the giant education company Pearson entered a partnership earlier this year to develop a curriculum together that would bear the school system’s name.
My colleague Michael Birnbaum just wrote in a Washington Post story that school district officials announced that they are revamping the system’s math curriculum in line with the newly adopted Common Core Standards (which have been adopted by more than two-thirds of the states) and will stop pushing kids who aren’t ready for advanced work.
For years, it has been policy in the county for schools to push elementary and middle school students to skip grade levels and take accelerated courses. School officials said more than half of fifth-graders are taking sixth-grade math or higher.
But a work group looking at the curriculum concluded in a report that too many high school students lacked a concrete understanding math fundamentals. Too many teachers, Birnbaum reported, were complaining that even advanced students were unprepared and parents wondered why they had to hire tutors for their kids in advanced math classes.
By spending more time in earlier grades solidifying basic concepts, officials hope more high school students will do well in tough courses such as calculus.
The underlying dynamic is one that affects schools at every level and in every subject: How fast is too fast? How far should children be pushed?
Making a kid stretch to his/her fingertips is laudable, putting them on a ladder where they fall over is another. There is a point where pushing children to excel is worthwhile, and a point where it is worthless. That point is different with each child, making teaching something of an art (even if the overriding theme of school “reform” today is that teaching can be stripped down to numbers).
The county, in its desire to be seen as advanced, allowed too many young people to take courses for which they did not have the grounding.
In math, kids need a firm grip on basic concepts in order to progress, and too many children these days don’t get that, sometimes a result of mediocre math programs, and other times because curriculum is being pushed down into earlier grades when some children simply aren’t ready for it.
The school system runs some risk in this latest move; too much of a relaxation could mean kids who could be doing tougher work won’t. But if done correctly, officials could get the result they want: More kids who know more and can do advanced math when they are really ready to do it. What a concept.
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| November 5, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories: Math, Montgomery County Public Schools, Parents | Tags: accelerated math, common core standards, math, math programs, moco, moco schools, montgomery county public schools, montgomery county schools
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