Equity in the Age of ESSA – A Mathematics Problem

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I posted that snippet about an article in EdWeek on high school math.

I figured I ought to provide the back story on my statement about the evil teacher. Math was never my first love. I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up. I didn’t think I really needed higher math. By the time I hit that Trig/PreCalc class taught by Mr. Evil in my junior year, I had completed the vast majority of A-F requirements to be admitted to University of California, Davis and didn’t see the logic of bringing down my 4.0 GPA. (To clarify, this was 1979, before the age of the AP course calculating into one’s GPA, leaving us limited to a mere 4.0 high.) Mr. Evil was the only Trig/PreCalc teacher at my high school. He had a reputation for chasing down those errant students who had the audacity to cut his class, and for scoring a negative two (-2) on an empathy scale of 1 – 5. 

I was so looking forward to his class.

The first day, as he took attendance, he looked each of us up and down and made snide remarks about his expectations – mostly negative – of our potential performance in his class. He had lofty expectations of none in this ethnically diverse (i.e. court-ordered racially balanced) classroom. The second day, he gave a pop quiz. Mind you, no instruction had yet taken place. I failed miserably, along with most of my classmates. To be clear, I had passed Algebra I & II (hard fought), and Geometry (piece of cake). Prior to this, while math did not come to me easily, I had a decent level of confidence. When he returned the quizzes the following day, he loudly announced each student’s score/grade as he handed them their paper. He included brief commentary with each, none of which, to the best of my recollection, of a positive nature. In 2018 this would be an unbridled violation of student data privacy.

Immediately after class I went to my counselor, whom I’d met with less than five times in my high school career. Not her fault, high school counselors have been overloaded for as long as I can remember. I dropped that class and took home economics. 

As an undergrad, I took two stats classes. While slightly challenged, I passed. No stellar performance by me. My BA was acquired in spite of a very active social life and the consumption of more beer than water over that 4+ year stretch. 

As a classroom teacher, my need for stats was fairly rudimentary. By 2002-ish, as data-driven instruction began to take hold and I moved from the classroom teacher to the role of consultant/coach, my need for statistical analysis of student performance on benchmarks and assessments grew more and more important. I began to wonder why we weren’t offered stats instead of Trig/PreCalc. Stats is much more universal: applied in the social sciences as well as the hard sciences. I took two more stats classes as I completed Masters and Doctoral course work. I use that practical knowledge and skills base multiple times each week. 

As I think upon the college and career readiness levels of which we are to prepare our learners, our most fragile and too-frequently disenfranchised learners, I cannot help but advocate that it is time to rethink what we teach. We must align our instruction more carefully to the careers of tomorrow, rather than the college prep of old. 

At what point do we truly teach the students we have, rather than the content we were taught?

The article in edWeek can be found at

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