"Some of our students objectively can’t learn algebra."

No, of course I wasn’t the one who said that. It comes from a  petition signed by 14 of Palo Alto High School’s 20 math teachers, listed by name (!) in a blog post by Dan Meyer, who is always worth reading. Perhaps this is what the media would call a tone-deaf gaffe if it had been said by a politician, as it surely isn’t quite what the petition authors meant. Unfortunately the petition goes on to say that “Most of our students are fortunate to come from families where education matters and parents have the means and will to support and guide their children in tandem with us, their teachers” but that many of those who can’t pass Algebra II come from “under-represented minorities.”

OK, it’s time to take a deep breath and figure out what all this is supposed to mean. These teachers are not talking about brain-damaged or severely learning-disabled children. They’re talking about giving up on some “normal” kids who seem to be unable to meet a graduation requirement. I too teach in an affluent school that matches the description above, where most of the students are fortunate, etc., etc., and where there is some statistical gap between them and certain minorities, and where Algebra II is a graduation requirement. But nearly every single student at Weston manages to fulfill this requirement. Some need an extra year (“Intermediate Algebra”) before being ready to take Algebra II; many get one-on-one support from Special Ed tutors in our Skills department; even more take our Topics in Algebra II course, which supplements the regular 385 minutes of Algebra II (in each eight-day cycle) with an extra 193 minutes of structured but ungraded extra help in a small-class setting.

This is a successful model for differentiating instruction without giving up on the traditional classroom. Our students objectively can learn algebra.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning, Weston