Sissy Willis reports of this column by a writer for the Newton TAB in Massachussetts. It’s about why the public school system “was recently forced to publicly admit that the sixth-grade MCAS math scores have steadily declined over the past three years to the point where 32 percent of sixth-graders are now in the ‘warning’ or ‘needs improvement’ category.”
The school system has no answer, columnist Tom Mountain explains:
The school department offered no tangible explanation for these declining scores other than to admit that they have no explanation, as articulated by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Carolyn Wyatt (salary $106,804), “[The results] have decreased, incrementally, each year and continue to puzzle us.” She went on to admit that this downward trend is peculiar to Newton and “is not being seen statewide.” Again, she offered no explanation, but she did assure the School Committee that her assistant, Math Coordinator Mary Eich (salary $101,399), is currently investigating the problem.
In full disclosure, my sister teaches 5th grade math and science. She has been a teacher for more than twenty years. Her income is, I believe, less than $50k per annum, but those administrative salaries are not out of line for the school district in which she works.
Mr. Mountain thinks, though, that he might have a grip on the problem, and he’s not even drawing a public-service paycheck:
But why have the sixth-grade MCAS scores plummeted in just three years? What mitigating circumstances, such as demographic or economic factors, could have contributed to this downward spiral?
Since Newton has been curiously alone in this decline, surely we can’t blame the MCAS itself, especially since the test has hardly changed in just three years. The demographics of the city haven’t shifted in so short a period. The socioeconomic level of the population has risen steadily. The school budget has dramatically increased – most notably with an unprecedented override in 2002 – to the point where the budget is at a record high, despite an actual decline in the number of students.
Class size has only recently increased, but mostly at the high schools and only sporadically at the lower grade levels. Since the turnover rate in the school department has always been low, the teachers and principals are roughly the same. We still have the same School Committee, superintendent and mayor.
So then, after eliminating any potential mitigating factors, what could possibly account for the steady decline in the sixth-grade math MCAS scores?
The only logical and remaining explanation is change that occurred in the Newton math curriculum itself – the subject matter of what is taught and how, what is emphasized and what is not, what has been omitted and what is new. In short, what has changed in the elementary and middle school math curriculum to have affected such a dramatic decline in the MCAS scores?
Answer: the new math curriculum, otherwise known as anti-racist multicultural math.
Between 1999 and 2001, under the direction of Superintendent Young and Assistant Superintendent Wyatt, the math curriculum was redesigned to emphasize “Newton’s commitment to active anti-racist education” for the elementary and middle schools. This meant that no longer were division, multiplication, fractions and decimals the first priority for teaching math. For that matter, the teaching of math was no longer the first priority for math teachers, as indicated by the new curriculum guidelines, called benchmarks, which function as the primary instructional guide for teaching math in the Newton Public Schools.
In 2001 Mr. Young, Mrs. Wyatt and an assortment of other well-paid school administrators, defined the new number-one priority for teaching mathematics, as documented in the curriculum benchmarks, “Respect for Human Differences – students will live out the system wide core of ‘Respect for Human Differences’ by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors.” It continues, “Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others…” It goes on and on.
These are the most important priorities that the school department has determined for teaching math from grade one through eight, as documented in the Newton Public Schools Benchmarks.
Nowhere among the first priorities for the math curriculum guidelines is the actual teaching of math. That’s a distant second. To Superintendent Young and his School Committee, mathematical problem-solving is of secondary importance to anti-racist/anti-bias math.
I studied a lot of math in grade school, culminating with calculus in my senior year. I made it through Differential Equations in college. You know, not once did it occur to me that mathematics might have anything to do with racism. Are irrational numbers discriminated against? Is “square-root” a racial ephithet? Mr. Mountain has, it appears, found what two hundred-thousand-dollar public servants have obviously missed: “Nowhere among the first priorities for the math curriculum guidelines is the actual teaching of math. That’s a distant second.”
Equally apparent to me is the fact that nowhere among the first priorities for the history curriculum guidelines of far too many public schools is the actual teaching of history, nor in English curricula, nor science, nor any other of the fundamental disciplines that public schooling is tasked with. The FIRST priority in these public schools, overriding all others, is to build ignorant, pliable, unthinking, politically-correct eco-worshipping multi-culti mind-numbed robots in the socialist mold of John Dewey who said, “You can’t make Socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.”
They’ve done a helluva job.
UPDATE, 1/24: From comments at Professor Plum‘s comes this University of Florida College of Education “Supplement and Study Guide” for “Multicultural Mathematics”. You’ve GOT to read this. But here’s the part that stands out like a neon sign:
EXPECTATIONS FOR CLASSROOM BEHAVIOR
Each student is expected to exhibit courteous, mature, and professional behavior. Violation of the following and other inappropriate and irresponsible behaviors will lead to a deduction in your final grade.
• cheating or otherwise presenting another person’s work as your own*
• turning assignments in late
• missing class and related experiences
• talking when someone else – a peer or a teacher – is speaking
• exhibiting a challenging, arrogant, or insolent manner
• making late and noisy entrances – or exits – from the classroom
• displaying active disinterest in class (e.g., sleeping, walking out)
• packing up books and papers before the class officially ends
• putting down or disrespecting other students
• asking irrelevant questions as an annoyance
• not being prepared for class
• not listening to announcement or lectures and then asking others about the information presented
• doing work for another course during class-time
• refusing to participate in activities
• exhibiting lack of awareness of acceptable behavior (e.g., eating or drinking in class, passing notes)
• being slow to move into or out of groups
• disrespectfully over-reacting to assignments when handed back
This is a university course for the education of future TEACHERS. And these rules are what you’d see for a third-grade classroom. But “exhibiting a challenging, arrogant, or insolent manner”? Why do I think that Dr. Thomasenia Lott Adams might have found some resistance to her instruction in “Multicultural Mathematics”? Sweet bleeding jeebus.