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Mastering Eighth-grade Math -
a simple proposal for greatly increasing student performance

I live in a town, Dover, Delaware, with a very low-performing high school. They were told to "do something" to turn things around. They came up with a brilliant plan, the main component of which is to have two principals!

Call me dense, but if student performance is proportional to the number of principals in a school, why not call everybody a principal?

In any case, if that and other modern education thinking strike you as floating around somewhere in the ionosphere and completely unconnected to the task of producing higher-performing students, here's an alternate proposal focused on ground zero--the student's brain.

I claim this plan could produce possibly the greatest results for the smallest upheaval to "the way things are" in modern schools.

PROPOSAL: Upon completion of the eighth grade, every student starts over at the very beginning of math and works through it again in a rigorous, no-nonsense, self-paced, computer-based course which demands mastery for every degree of advancement. (No calculators!) There will be one "math coach" to whom the students go when they hit a stumbling block.

Here is my rationale.

Review is crucial to learning anything. Schools could use a lot more of it.

Modern math skills are abysmal. I rarely meet a student, at any level, with solid 3rd-grade math skills. This includes intelligent, educated adults, sad to say.

Math is the basis on which science, engineering and technology stand.

Math is more than just another subject; it's a precise, orderly way of thinking that can only benefit performance in all areas of life and academics, including writing, the arts, and sports.

Solid 8th-grade math skills are more than most of the population will ever need; it gives power to burn. Believe it or not, there is no math on the SAT higher than about an 8th-grade level -- no quadratic formula, matrices, trigonometry, logarithms, standard deviations, derivatives, etc. (And when's the last time you used any of those?)

If the schools have told the truth about a student having passed 8th-grade math, he will spin through the review phase quickly. If a student never makes it all the way back up to the 8th-grade level, he will still be much farther ahead of game than by being pulled through his last four years of high school math in a daze.

Nothing can be learned easier than by being "shown how" by a master. The "math coach" will have math in his blood and a flair for passing on his mastery. Note that his duties have nothing in common with the management of a classroom, and we could draw on talented mathematical minds from outside the education establishment. Perhaps it's time for a breath of fresh air.

This proposal involves no retooling of elementary math education, although a return to the basics there would expedite matters greatly. High school math instructors will be overjoyed to have students who are fully equipped to take their courses.

The first school system that grasps how fundamentally different and more basic math is than the other subjects, and implements a simple plan along these lines, would jump directly to "the head of the class" in the nation in student achievement.

Any takers?


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