Not all math classes are the same even in the same school

math (Medium)Researcher William H. Schmidt believes education has become a game of chance in which the odds of success are predicated on factors outside the control of the students, including where they live, the schools they attend, the teachers they have and the textbooks they use.

An internationally recognized researcher on effective math education, Schmidt says that U.S. students lack equal opportunities to learn math, something he saw firsthand when he took sabbatical from Michigan State University to spend a year at the University of Virginia.

As an author of Michigan’s math standards, Schmidt knew his second grader would have been learning multiplication tables up to the number five back home in East Lansing. In Virginia, multiplication was not taught at all in second grade, reinforcing what Schmidt already realized from his international comparisons: All math classes are not equal and students do not have the same opportunities to learn math.

In his new book “Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools,” co-written with mathematician Curtis C. McKnight, Schmidt documents in great detail the variations in not only how math is taught across districts, but within schools. The variances occur in affluent and poor districts. In fact, they found the greatest variation in content coverage in schools that serve middle-class children.

“A topic can be covered or not covered,” he says. “Topics can be covered within different sequences, some of which may not make any sense from the point of view of the content itself. Students can receive more or less time for instruction, depending on the teacher’s decision.”

Schmidt also found that textbooks had a far greater influence in U.S. classrooms on what is taught. That’s a problem because he also found that we don’t have particularly effective textbooks.

In coding 353 math and 150 science textbooks, Schmidt found great variances in what was covered and at what depth. His conclusion: U.S. textbooks offer the worst of all worlds in that they are often more complex and less coherent than books used in other countries.

“We have to break the notion that that the textbook is the curriculum,” he says.

Speaking from his home in Michigan, Schmidt cited several factors for the wide array in math instruction, from lackluster teacher training to phone book- sized textbooks that go wide but not deep. (He notes that U.S. fourth grade math textbooks can run 500 pages, compared to the 150-page books used elsewhere in the world.) And teachers often confront contradictory marching orders from state standards, district pacing guides, textbooks and test content.

In surveys of teachers, Schmidt found that many don’t feel prepared to teach the more rigorous math standards. Despite the push to introduce algebra in middle school, only half the teachers felt academically well-prepared to teach expression and simple equations, fundamental algebraic concepts.

“We put teachers in totally impossible positions,” he says.

Consider that when Georgia introduced its integrated math eight years ago, half of the middle school teachers who responded to a state survey expressed doubts they could teach to the elevated bar because their own math content wasn’t deep enough.

(Although Georgia is backing away from its integrated math in which elements of algebra, geometry and statistics are interwoven with increasing difficulty over time into single classes, Schmidt notes integrated math “is more consistent with what is done everywhere in the rest of the world.”)

Schmidt blames teacher prep programs and state certification for gaps in teacher skills in teaching math. “States set up their own certification requirements and universities implement those requirements. Teachers were told what to take and they did it, and it was just not adequate.”

Another factor undermining math education is ability tracking, which he proclaims “a dumb idea. It is like a race. Kids go faster and faster and not deeper. In the rest of the world, there is almost no tracking. They take the brightest kids in the class and allow those kids to go deeper.”

In this high school math arms race, Schmidt says conceptual depth emerges the loser. He cites the surge in high schools students taking calculus, only to arrive at college with procedural skills but a weak grasp of the deeper substance.

He also expresses skepticism at the drive to make math “fun” through video games and other online platforms, pointing out an essential truth to which any Georgia Tech student will attest: Math is tough.

Schmidt has studied international math instruction and is aware of the extra classes that kids take in other countries, including the “juku” schools in Japan. While he recognizes the value of online tutorials as adjuncts to traditional math preparation, he says, “I don’t think as they now sit, they would be a total replacement for in-class instruction for the kids.”

“What I learned from all the international research, from kids all around the world who are doing the best on the tests, is that they don’t like math particularly and they find it hard. We just keep believing in a magic grail, a magic bullet, that will somehow make it easy,” he says.

Schmidt believes that we ought to find ways to help students understand math connections to the real world and to their futures. He says other countries have proven that all students can be taught math essentials, contending that the new Common Core state standards adopted by most states, including Georgia, are the first step to finally laying out the math reasoning skills that we expect all American kids to attain.

But he says, “I have a degree in mathematics. I never really found it fun. I was always nervous when I had a test because I knew it would not be easy. Math is hard; it’s hard for the teachers and it’s hard for the kids.”

Schmidt does not argue that schools can eliminate all achievement gaps among students, noting,  “When they are left free to achieve in comparable circumstances, unequal results will likely follow.”

But, he says, we do not have comparable circumstances now in U.S. schools. “Schools must provide equal content coverage for children of all backgrounds at least through the first eight years of schooling,” he says.

Denied that, Schmidt cautions, “Even the most motivated and striving student in those circumstances will achieve less, likely even less than other students in different circumstances who are not as motivated or do not work as hard. This situation fundamentally violates another American value — that of fairness.”

–From Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog

58 comments Add your comment


July 27th, 2012
10:49 am

In the previous topic, it seems Carlosgvv (6:12 pm) has uncharacteristically seen through this rearrangement of Titanic deck chairs.

No doubt he likewise comprehends the unrelenting pressures on the education establishment to appear to be addressing failures we all know—won’t be. What will be accomplished, of course, is safe passage into taxpayer-assisted retirement for yet another sizable cohort of administrators and not a few teachers. While parents hopelessly await results.

When charter schools and tuition vouchers are the norm, there will also be failures. The difference is—they won’t be as easily or effectively swept under the rug.

– EduKtr


July 27th, 2012
11:03 am

Well said. Learning math should be hard – a steep challenge requiring hard work and a depth of understanding. Only with great effort is any accomplishment fulfilling and meaningful. Anyone who thinks class must always be “fun” has lost all concept of rigor and is partly responsible for the dumbing down of America through constant coddling and babysitting, along with whining that the math curriculum is “too hard.” Poor babies. We have deprived them of a worthwhile educational experience, and our society has suffered as these soft and unmotivated young adults enter the workplace – with an ironic void of self-esteem through the lack of meaningful achievement and insufficient life understanding. If only every teacher worried more about enabling rigorous learning than being popular and likable.

Pride and Joy

July 27th, 2012
11:04 am

Math and Education.
I met two women. One had just graduated with an education degree and one is working on her education degree and is planning to become a middle school teacher. I encouraged both of them to teach and concentrate on math because I told them they were more likely to become and stay employed. I was shocked and dismayed at both of their attitudes.
Both said they “couldn’t do” math and were “bad at math” and couldn’t understand it and therefore could not teach middle school math.
This is an atrocity. How could anyone graduate from high school, much less college, and not feel confident about knowing middle school math?
Math and science are where the jobs are. Science also involves math. It is imperative that we teach math to women, especially, because women will become teachers. overwhelmingly, women are teachers, particularly in elementary and middle school. We need women to understand math in order to teach math to the next generation of boys and girls.
Perhaps that is why our country falters in jobs, because women are not competent in math. Women, as teachers, are responsible for teaching math to everyone in the U.S. schools. We need women to know math well enough to teach it.
It is shocking and a travesty than ANY kid can graduate high school and not feel confident enough to teach middle school math.

HS Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
11:07 am

“Schools must provide equal content coverage for children of all backgrounds at least through the first eight years of schooling,”

I agree with that; however, underline ‘first eight years of schooling’.


July 27th, 2012
11:21 am

What we need are more math teachers who operate like crack dealers. Go into the highways and by ways to find their users- students and let them know about the new killer quadratic equations that are running this week. I found a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Baltimore, Dr. Hossein Arsham, and that is what he did to me, and I have never been able to get off calculus since, and I am not going to rehab….no no no….I smoke or get smoked by calculus every day. I am a hopeless user.

Hillbilly D

July 27th, 2012
11:37 am

When I went to grammar schools all those years ago, we had 1,2 and 3 level classes. It’s nothing new.


July 27th, 2012
11:49 am

High school math text books were a lot better 50 odd years ago, I learned most of my high school math from the text book, not in class. Textbooks are too big today, they intimidate the student without really educating them. My high school algebra I text book was maybe 120 pages, you could find what you needed. In college, I took Statics, Dynamics, and Strength of Materials in a programmed format, no lectures, just worked my way through the books. First the topic was explained, a couple sample problems were solved, then a series of problems the student had to solve, with the solution printed on the back of the page. You had to try to solve the problem for the method to work, using the worked examples as models. If you just looked at the solution without first making the effort to solve the problem on your own, you usually failed the course. Once you struggled with a problem, right or wrong, you never forgot how you solved it or where you went wrong.

C. Waller

July 27th, 2012
11:53 am

By far the best post I’ve read on math ed, thks. I especially liked the comments about textbooks. Many metro schools dont have take home text books. In Dekalb we juggled between 3 textbooks to find what we needed to teach and noone seemed to care


July 27th, 2012
12:00 pm

Last year, my first grader’s math instruction consisted of 90 minutes of math games with only about 10 minutes of the teacher actually teaching the concept (which was mostly instruction about how to play the math game with their partner/group).

My child struggled every night with math worksheets that contained basic math problems because he had no opportunity to practice completing basic algorithms (1+9, 10-3) during those 90 minutes of daily math instruction. Huge disconnect between classwork and homework. We were having to teach him what I expected he should be learning during class each day (based on having 3 older children who didn’t spend their early elementary grades learning math in game format and actually LEARNED math from direct instruction and a textbook). He could tell me about the game they played that day, but he certainly had no idea how it related to the math worksheet he was expected to complete for homework.


July 27th, 2012
12:08 pm

Kids have to stick with difficult tasks such as math well beyond their comfort legels. This is the rigor that is missing from what we teach today. Should any student hem and haw because they actually have to engage themselves with difficult, less than desireable tasks-the teacher is labeled deficient in some way should they complain. Students have already been trained that if learning is not “FUN” (often made synonymous with engaging), then it is not learning. How do we go about changing that perspective since it is so ingrained? Can you fool students into thinking critically about issues they are disinterested in without an earful of complaints- or must everything be a game?


July 27th, 2012
12:16 pm

Mathematics is tough. Mathematics is gratifying, but it is not a spectator sport. Americans want easy pleasure from spectating, so we don’t mean mathematics much good.


July 27th, 2012
12:40 pm

I would love to see what Math textbooks he recommends. I wasn’t impressed with my child’s math curriculum this past year. I decided to take matters in my own hands and teach it to him myself. I picked up a homeschool curriculm but would love to see some ratings on all the math curriculums.

William Casey

July 27th, 2012
12:40 pm

I must admit that I don’t quite know what to do about Math instruction, especially at the elementary an middle levels. Here are some things I’m fairly certain about:

1. The key to improving instruction is having BETTER TEACHERS. Duh! This won’t be easy because simply understanding mathematics, though necessary, is not nearly enough.

2. Ability grouping of students is more necessary in Math than in any other subject.

3. With rare exceptions, people who are really good at Math tend to be arrogant. Note to less bright administrators: such people do not suffer fools gladly and they have options.

4. For most students, Math requires boring repetition. Most brains don’t naturally think “mathematically. Math requires precision. Get over it.

5. Many otherwise intelligent people are absolutely PHOBIC about Math. It’s more than just “not liking” a subject. This must be addressed.


July 27th, 2012
12:44 pm

@RAMZAD – love your 11:21 post!

As to the difference across districts, no surprise there. When I was in 1st grade, ‘71-’72, I learned how to add and subtract 3 digit numbers. We moved that summer, and in my second grade class, they were just learning to add and subtract SINGLE digits! Needless to say, I looked like a math genius, lol.

Then, I switched schools between fifth and sixth grade – I missed learning how to multiply and divide fractions. I knew how to convert to decimal, so every time I a multiply/divide fraction problem, I converted the fractions to decimals, did the math, and converted the answer back – whew, that was some work! Finally I asked my 11th grade math teacher (yes, it went on that long – and I was in advanced math classes) how to do it – she happily showed me, and expressed surprise at how I had been coping all along, lol. Luckily for me, the further I got away from numbers, the more I enjoyed math – trig especially was one of my favs.

In light of the highly transient society we’ve become, something needs to be done.Supposedly the Common Core is supposed to eliminate some of the issues like this – I’ll hold my judgment on that. I do hope that there is some clarity on what, when, and how deep because I can say first hand that “…teachers often confront contradictory marching orders from state standards, district pacing guides, textbooks and test content.”

old teach

July 27th, 2012
1:18 pm

Well stated, William Casey! And as for more on #4, it is the rare student indeed who can be absent from class and do an ability-appropriate math assignment without discussion and examples.

HS Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
1:28 pm

@ Solutions: Good points. I liked modular learning, the few times I’ve been exposed to it (terrible professors – teach yourself from good books). However, the most critical thing you posted was this: “Once you struggled with a problem, right or wrong, you never forgot how you solved it or where you went wrong.” You are dead-on right with that. I make students do challenge problems, in that if they actually learn how to climb the learning ladder without too much scaffolding, then they grow what I call “brain muscle”, and THAT is what they will use for the rest of their critical thinking lives.

@ William Casey: Your post was very good – all the way through.

Maureen Downey

July 27th, 2012
1:32 pm

@William Casey, One analogy that Dr. Schmidt made in my interview with him was that learning math was arduous, akin to “memorizing the phone book.”

So, I am sure he would agree with No. 4 on your list.



July 27th, 2012
1:37 pm

If a train traveled 1600 km in 9hrs in mph how fast was that train traveling on average. Also if a manufactures specification states that component should not be exposed to temperatures of more than 65 degrees Celsius or it will fail and measured temperature is measured at 113 degrees Fahrenheit are the specs within tolerance?


July 27th, 2012
1:44 pm

Math takes brains and discipline. A large percentage of teachers and students are hopelessly lacking in these departments.


July 27th, 2012
1:51 pm

Thanks HS Math Teacher, one of the keys to programmed learning was having the solutions readily available on the back of the page, thereby minimizing frustrations. Without the solutions, it would be just like solving the problems at the end of the chapter in a regular textbook, if you get hung up, you become frustrated and never go back to the problems again. It is a balancing act, but the forward to the programmed learning textbook gave guidelines, said you had to try to solve the problems yourself first prior to looking at the solution. Having the worked examples as a model helped a lot too. The programmed texts are no longer available, they were labor intensive, and the female engineer who wrote them passed away a couple decades ago, from alzheimers disease, how ironic, after her books educated literally thousands of engineers. These were sophomore level engineering courses, the basics for more advanced work.

Eyes Rolling

July 27th, 2012
1:55 pm

Not surprising. Math *is* hard. Unfortunately, most of the people trying to teach it are stupid. That’s what happens when you only hire out of the major that draws from the very bottom of the academic barrel at any given college.

Ole Guy

July 27th, 2012
2:08 pm

Knowing a topic, and knowing how to TEACH that topic can be two entirely different skill sets. During the earliest days of my teaching soujourn, I was “priveleged” to observe a few “expert” teachers in their presentation of math (really arithmetical) concepts. During some “critical moments” of “student capture” (the point at which the kid is either going to “get it” or lose it), the skin on my six was crawling…the teacher was “entering vapor lock”; she had entered a “learning zone” from which she could neither advance nor retreat. I felt bad for the kid who, through facial expresions, had an intense desire to “get the point”. After a period of torture, I couldn’t take it no more, so I (as statesmanly as I could muster) stepped in. The kid, in the true honesty of an 11 year old, expressed his complete understanding of Mr so and so’s (me) explanation over that of the “expert” teacher (I felt like saying, “don’t do me no favors, kid’!).

This was but one, of several occasions, where I was to “learn” (from the experts) “how it’s done”. In all honesty, and at the fear of coming across as a know-it-all, I was not too impressed with the apparent skill levels many of these teachers bring to the platform. Of far greater concern was/is the apparent lack of REAL caring (as opposed to the “I’m just following orders…what can I do?” caring.


July 27th, 2012
2:08 pm

@William Casey

“3. With rare exceptions, people who are really good at Math tend to be arrogant. Note to less bright administrators: such people do not suffer fools gladly and they have options.”

And thus the math and science teacher shortage will last, oh…, forever.

Another Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
2:31 pm

“Despite the push to introduce algebra in middle school, only half the teachers felt academically well-prepared to teach expression and simple equations, fundamental algebraic concepts.”

Fire them.

HS Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
2:52 pm

@ Ole Guy: I’m with you on that. I don’t understand how a middle school math teacher wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching fundamentals of Algebra. I remember being in a Calculus 1 class on the old quarter system, and it was full of students. Most of them were going to be middle school math teachers. I was required to take 4 quarters of Calculus; however, I learned through one of them that they had to take 1 quarter. First quarter CAL was commonly called “Differential Calculus” or “Derivative Calculus”. Integral Calculus began in CAL 2. I say all this to arrive at this question: How can any middle school math teacher, who could pass at least 1 college quarter of Calculus, feel unprepared, or unable to teach Algebra foundation?

math teacher

July 27th, 2012
2:55 pm

Agreed. I feel that GA backing away from integrated math is a bad decision. I moved from Atlanta to Louisville, KY in high school and I loved the integrated math I had there. I was really able to understand the math on a more conceptual level through the integrated structure, and I can say that had it not been my high school math experience in kentucky, I would not be a math teacher today.

Another note to add is that…it also does not help when parents tell their own kids (and in front of me) that they never use Algebra as an adult. Obviously, if a parent fails to make the connections in their own lives using algebra or math in general, then they won’t encourage their kids to look for real-life applications either, which in turn does not reinforce the concepts taught in class. In the end, math becomes something totally irrelevant in their lives.

Jessica Taylor

July 27th, 2012
3:03 pm

Can someone provide an in depth explanation for why some schools receive better teachers, more funding and resources than others? Especially since county taxes are all pooled together to create one pot…?? Why is this so? How are some schools more valued than others when they are in the same county and receive money from the same source?

Concerned DeKalb Mom

July 27th, 2012
3:10 pm

I’ve tutored many, many students in mathematics over the years. It is amazing how many simply lack confidence in their abilities; once I’ve sat with them, assured them they aren’t “stupid,” and had them work through problems, they manage to get the hang of it. One important aspect of mathematics education is the utilization of patience.

The one thing these students have all had in common–including adult friends who say they can’t do math–is the memory of “the teacher.” That’s the teacher who turned them off math, made them feel stupid, never actually showed them the way…somehow, the kids/adults were let down by a teacher who minimized their difficulty with a difficult subject. That has always infuriated me.

Yet Another Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
3:21 pm

If math teachers can’t do the math, they should be fired, but my experience has been that it is the ridiculous regulations that prevent many teachers from being good teachers instead of lack of knowledge.

@William Casey
Regarding #3, yep, this will be my last year. Really wish I hadn’t already signed the contract for this one.


July 27th, 2012
3:48 pm

I taught math for 15 years between Florida and Georgia. The difference in the levels of the students and teachers is amazing. I’ve taught in rich schools and poor schools and it’s impossible to paint anyone or any school with one brush. Some of the wealthy kids were the worst math students and some of the poorest kids were the best. The common theme was the amount of work and dedication they put into their studies. One of my all time favorite students was a poor Mexican kid that didn’t speak English very well but, he had this attitude that nothing was going to stop him. His parents were hard working and appreciative of any efforts his teachers made to help. I couldn’t care less that they were in this country illegally or not because this was the kind of kid I was meant to teach. He’s the first one in his family to attend high school and he’s doing very well.
Ability or not, every kid can learn math. Many American kids are spoiled and expect everything to be easy and as soon as it gets too diificult they shun it. Black, white or purple it doesn’t matter. It all boils down to effort and attitude. Teachers can’t teach attitude and effort. So there!

Another Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
3:52 pm

Jessica Taylor : “Can someone provide an in depth explanation for why some schools receive better teachers, more funding and resources than others?”

Better teachers flock to schools with better student behaviour and better administration. Even within a district, maybe especially within a district. The district I was in had 4 high schools. Two were known as resume builders. If you were a good Math teacher there and requested to go a better school within the district – they could either allow you to transfer of risk losing you to another district.

The school I started at 6 years ago has only one Math teacher left that was there when I started, (out of 15 Math teachers.) They only have 5 teachers that were there at any point during my tenure. So, with the exception of that one Math teacher, there are no Math teachers at that school with more than 3 years at that particular school.

I just counted the number of Math teachers from my old school that are at other high schools in the district…seven. I also know of 4 others that took positions in other districts, all teaching A.P. or honors classes. I also am teaching A.P. classes. That’s 12 out of 15 positions (from the year I started there,) that left for better behaviour and/or administration. (None were for more money.)

As for funding, poorer areas don’t have parents that complain or know better.


July 27th, 2012
3:55 pm

More involved, committed parents offer greater support to their PTA etc. They also teach their children to value education AND provide a greater level of support for their children’s teachers. The schools these children attend have better test scores and fewer discipline problems. Over time, teachers vote with their feet to get into the schools with students who bring books, pencils and paper to class, do homework, and have a home environment where a phone call or letter home will actually result in meaningful consequences rather than a parent meeting where the parent defends his or her faultless little angel.

Nuff said?

Pride and Joy

July 27th, 2012
4:09 pm

Another Math Teacher has the best comment and solution. He or she says “Despite the push to introduce algebra in middle school, only half the teachers felt academically well-prepared to teach expression and simple equations, fundamental algebraic concepts.”

Fire them.
Yes, fire them. If any teacher can’t do simple alegebra, they are simply not smart enough to be a teacher.

Pride and Joy

July 27th, 2012
4:13 pm

William Casey you say “Most brains don’t naturally think “mathematically.”
I understand why you feel that way because you are near teachres all day. Teacheres in GA don’t have math skills. I work with engineers and technical types all day long and they think mathematically. Math is easy for them. I think how you feel about math depends on the people who surround you.

HS Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
4:15 pm

dbow: I think what you wrote is great. I’ve spent too much time criticizing our policy makers, but not enough time trying to look for positive things. Your experience with that determined Hispanic kid moistened my eyes. I love teaching, and I want to be positive. I’m getting old, in relative terms, but what keeps me young is a new year with new possibilities, and even just a few kids who are sponge-thirsty to learn the “big bad old math” from the old man down the hall”.


July 27th, 2012
4:47 pm

@hoodtechie – lol – you should pose your question to the joint JPL/NASA teams that worked on the lost Mars Climate Orbiter mission:

I think the train was going about 110 mph, and I think your component will be fine – it has another 36 degrees to go…

Tired of Teaching

July 27th, 2012
4:54 pm

Thank you!!! I’ve been waiting to read something like this for years. Math is not supposed to be “fun”. It is supposed to be rigorous and challenging so that students can build skills in logic, problem solving and critical thinking. If your goal is to make math fun, then you’re cheating the students. Life is not always fun; solving complex problems isn’t always fun. Teachers are not in the classroom to entertain students. We’re there to teach and make sure that students master the concepts. Sometimes math is hard…even for students who are good at math. Math can even be quite dull at times to those who don’t enjoy it or lack basic skills to do it well, but students need to find the intrinsic motivation to just do it or they will surely limit themselves in future endeavors.


July 27th, 2012
5:06 pm

@Jessica Taylor – “Can someone provide an in depth explanation for why some schools receive better teachers, more funding and resources than others? Especially since county taxes are all pooled together to create one pot…?? Why is this so? How are some schools more valued than others when they are in the same county and receive money from the same source?”

The are several factors at work, but the major factor (and dirty little secret) is that some schools are easier to teach at than others. In a large county, you will find schools with varying socioeconomic demographics. In one district you could have a school with no apartment complexes and little transiency and another with no subdivisions and 50% transiency. You could have a FRL population of 75% or 5% – you could have an ELL population of 35% or 0% (not to mention that ELL group could be highly educated Koreans or never formally educated Guatemalans). Most of the metro districts have this kind of population disparity.

The Title 1 schools are tougher to teach in. They just are – it’s not an indictment of anyone; it’s just that those kids need more of everything – support, structure, etc. Teachers at Title 1 schools are often asked to do more – offer free tutoring, give out cell phone numbers, etc. These schools typically have higher turnover because of the increased demands. So…what happens is that teachers, new to the area or new to the profession, will take jobs in those schools just to get their foot in the door. They will stick around a couple years and then request a transfer to a “better” school. If that doesn’t pan out, they now have some experience under their belt and will be a more desirable candidate when applying for jobs elsewhere.

The end result is that, all other things being equal, a “good” school will have a better pool of candidates from which to choose as well as a more stable teaching population. The “tougher” schools will have more turnover. Some districts offer incentives, but it’s often not enough to keep teachers in the tough schools.

HS Math Teacher

July 27th, 2012
5:22 pm

CCMST: I teach in a “tough school”; however, I am from this hard-scrabble place, and so were my Parents. I am committed to stay here. I’m not leaving. Nature & death will take me to the proper place.

Sorry if my follow-ups bug you & others. I’m just going from being self-centered, with my regular rants to a listening & reflecting mode. If the state won’t help me with what I know is wrong, I will do what I have to do, which includes listening to other people.


July 27th, 2012
5:27 pm

@HS Math Teacher – why would your follow-up bug me???

You have a good point, and one I left out for the sake of brevity (lol, I know, my post was kind of long). In both Title 1 schools I worked in, there were definitely those committed to the cause – they loved those kids and their jobs and wouldn’t have it any other way. Unfortunately, and I’m sure you could confirm this, those teachers are in the minority in a tough school. There is a high burnout factor, and for the sake of self-preservation, the majority will eventually go elsewhere. Does this match your experience?


July 27th, 2012
5:42 pm

The idea of material being hard and needing a student’s absolute best efforts does not, and should not, apply only to mathematics. I have always found it a little strange that many people do not also understand that the ability and skill to be able to approach great literature critically and intelligently requires much effort over a long period of time. When I used to include a text like “Crime and Punishment” in AP classes, I would stress repeatedly that the first time one reads a work like this it is simply to get an overview, and it would take at least three dedicated readings to begin to understand such work. The same is true of major work in other areas as well. For example, one could not hope to begin to speak intelligently about “Don Giovanni” without watching it several times, with study between the viewings. How long does it take to educate oneself to appreciate a single painting by Caravaggio?

Great works of art give much to us over a lifetime, but we must struggle to bring ourselves up to a level to begin to appreciate them. This is not an easy process, but it is the only kind of secondary teaching I ever did or ever would do. In the past weeks, I have been delighted to receive several emails from former students all saying the same thing: you were the only teacher who prepared us for the realities of higher education.

I understand all too well that those on the R(money) side of things measure wealth only in terms of specie, but a better education might help even them understand, as Faulkner put it, that there is profit in anything you put much blood and sweat in, even if the profit lies elsewhere than money.

Such a view is anathema to most people in a dark, benighted state that would elect people like Fran Miller and Katie Reeves. I guess the good news for many of you is that I promise to stay away until the view changes. Until then, I urge all teachers who have had enough of being stuck in the Georgia Educational Gulag to throw in the towel, quit, flee.

PS: There are a lot of places that would love to have good teachers, but you have to ask for a job really nicely and be willing to go there.


July 27th, 2012
6:00 pm

@Fled – trust me, your oft given advice to flee has been seriously considered in this house. At a different time and place in my life, I would already be gone. Unfortunately, I’m at a point in my life that some ties are too strong to break. Still, I read your posts with envy, periodically check the Teachaway sites, and watch House Hunters International with starry eyes. :-)

Hard to get it right.....

July 27th, 2012
10:38 pm

The title of this article rings volumes regarding the fact that this statement is true for every subject matter. There are so many factors that discount every math class being the same even in the same school. This is true even when there is common planning for all the math teachers and they agree on pacing and create common assessments for the same course. It is a fact that as mentioned numerous post before this one that the skill level of teachers plays an important role in how much content will be covered effectively. Also, their ability to teach effectively and lastly the weighting of how the work is assessed can affect the results of student performance for the same course. I have witnessed that grades can be quite arbitrary as they can be inflated based on the grading criteria or can be quite rigorous in the same school. This example stated can yield excellent grades for weaker performing math students and lower grades for the more sophisticated math student. The question is who is prepared for higher math course work really? It is clear to me but if the course is entitled with the same name, the weaker students may appear more competent as math students have a greater chance at being placed in the next level of a more rigorous math course where they don’t belong. hmmmm……….


July 27th, 2012
10:52 pm

I attended a poor rural school. Goodyear moved into the area, and built a shiny new K-2nd grade early elementary school to help ease the overcrowding that would happen with their company and families relocating to the town. I remember the school, nicest I have ever attended. However, the company only built the school. The district had no money for textbooks for all the kids! not even a library, even more shocking NO KINDERGARTEN! Our district spent only what they had. I had no textbooks in 1st grade. The teacher flashed the assignments across the screen from a projector. We wrote all the time, all the time, on that chalkboard. In 2nd grade, I was lucky. Textbooks were available. I received the science book. (shared with two other kids, but that book was MY responsibility). What am I trying to say ???? We went on to college. My friend that was stuck with just a reading textbook in 2nd grade has gone on to be a doctor. We succeeded because we were expected to succeed. We appreciated what we had and worked together to learn. Math and science were taught as a challenge and by theory. In Georgia schools, my grand daughter was learning how to care for a puppy in science class. At that age, I was learning the base principals of a cartesian diver. Warm fuzzies have taken over the elementary school curriculum.

William Casey

July 28th, 2012
12:32 am

@Pride and Joy: My son will graduate with a degree in math in May ‘13. My Dad was an engineer (Brown & GT.) I believe that I know as much about math thinking as you do. 90% of human brains don’t work mathematically NATURALLY. They must be trained as I was.

Truth in Moderation

July 28th, 2012
12:36 am

Why I like home schooling: A simple question becomes a math/economics lesson….

Today, my 11 year old asked what “insider trading” was. I am amazed at the high level questions he asks as a result of reading “Fox Trot” or “Calvin and Hobbs.” He desperately wants to get the punch line, and can’t until he defines certain words or ideas. Of course, the quickest way to get an answer (he thinks) is to just ask me. Well, first, I had to explain the difference between a privately held business and a publicly traded one. I used a lemonade stand business to bring it down to his level. I then explained that if he wanted to expand his business, he could sell shares to raise money, but he would have to give the shareholders a certain percentage of the profit as well as voting power to direct the future growth of the business. I then made him practice his knowledge of percent to calculate different scenarios of shareholder profits for the lemonade stand. I also talked about how it isn’t always wise to take a private business public. Chick-fil-a is still privately held, so when the Mayor of Chicago wants to “dis” the owners for their religious beliefs, they can just ignore him because he and his friends don’t control the Board of Directors. I finally got around to explaining that insider trading is when a shareholder has access to information about the company that would affect its stock prices and uses it to their benefit, while other shareholders do not have that information. He then asked if that was why Martha Stewart went to jail. Of course, that opened up another discussion on our two-tier legal system, and the fact that some people go to jail, while others who commit the same crime do not (Congress members.)


July 28th, 2012
6:49 am

William Casey arrogant? Na, couldn’t be!

Mamacita seems to be the only one who took the time to observe her child’s elementary school math class and SHE MADE THE CORRECT OBSERVATION! Rolling dice, flipping playing cards and the rest of the manipulative games teachers have been taught to use to teach our children math are pure trash. Thank you to the Georgia Schools of Eduction or whatever you care to call them.

The author of the article also makes the correct observation. Schools do not teach math facts and that is why his child was not introduced to multiplication in second grade. If you cannot add you cannot multiply and without memorization of multiplication facts one will never be able to perform simple division.

Perhaps the terminology used to teach elementary math is a stumbling block for many students? Maybe the definition of the terms “PLUS” and “MINUS” are not properly explained. Could it be the word “TIMES” is suffering the same fate? Why is any number “TIMES” 0 = 0 so confusing to young children. As adults teaching, many fail to teach from the view of knowing nothing and make the fatal mistake of assuming certain facts are already known.

Fractions and % suffer the same end result of students not grasping just how useful these two math tools are in everyday life simply because the proper foundation leading up to their introduction was flawed. Sad how many here only discuss high school math going on about the classes they took. What should be the topic of conversation is why so many 5th graders are still counting on their fingers!

An example of the cart before the horse would be introducing square without the needed understanding of how it’s made. Flat is the first skill and then parallel needs to be introduced before any attempt at understanding how to create something that is truly square. You see, math isn’t hard, it is just very precise. When the proper foundation is laid, perfection is not only easy it is also beautiful to watch children full of confidence and pride in their mastery of the facts! And yes, repetition is needed to teach much of what we learn so patience and understanding is required.

William Casey

July 28th, 2012
7:11 am

@slob: good to see you. Been awhile. As arrogant as the situation requires. LOL

Once Again

July 28th, 2012
9:20 am

Please don’t continue to subject your children to this failed “education” system. If you actually want to have your children learn math, please go to and utilize the wealth of knowledge and outstanding video learning system that this site provides FOR FREE. Government cannot do anything well. Your children deserve better. While you are figuring a way to get them out of the prison you send them to every morning, at least make sure they get some decent math instruction. Their future should be important enough to you to take advantage of this free alternative.

Once Again

July 28th, 2012
9:23 am

Truth in Moderation – Thank you for pointing out the obvious truth about homeschooling – every moment is a learning experience. Congratulations to you for caring enough about your children to make sure they are not raised by the government.