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Update: Based on the comments received, I revised my letter to the Editor and have replaced the original version with the revised version. The letter will print this Friday (sorry, no on-line version will be available). I also forwarded a courtesy copy to each candidate, so they had time to come up with a response. Hopefully, that response will be to scrap the existing constructivist curricula and replace it with a direct instruction curricula. Let me have my dreams.
My town has a school board election on November 8th. So far the campaigns have been very contentious. Most taxpayers are getting fed up with the yearly tax increases—property tax rates are getting very high. Neither candidate (one is an incumbent) has really impressed me. The incumbent's platform is founded on his "no double digit tax increases pledge." If I were the challenger, this would be my primary talking point. This is a softball. The challenger's platform is founded on "finding a sugar daddy" to pay for our bills. To cover just our tax increases above the inflation rate, we'd have to find a new million dollar sugar-daddy every year while retaining all past year sugar daddies. You see now why I'm not impressed. I decided to stir things up a bit with the following letter to the editor of our local paper which will run the Friday before the election.
We Deserve Better Everyone should read “Strath Haven's Academic Performance Throughout History” from 2001 (available at Votekuperberg.com). It is a surprisingly frank and mostly accurate assessment of the WSSD by an insider. Mr. Kuperberg’s assessment is:
Weak Programs: Biology and French. Both programs “have deteriorated badly” and “are in crisis.”
Average Programs: English, Physics(Electric), Spanish, American History and Government. These programs are “average” or “mediocre” and “deteriorating.” English is in “substantial decline,” “weak overall,” “strong in the top third,” and “weak at the top.”
Strong Programs: Chemistry, and Physics(Mechanics). Both “have been strong throughout.” Math is “currently the strongest program and has been increasing in strength.”
Let’s analyze the WSSD’s strongest program, Math, so you can understand how weak the remaining programs are.
Based on SAT and AP scores, the top third of the students do well (most likely due to the rigorous high school courses). The middle third are average performers, which by Pennsylvania’s low standards isn’t saying much. However, last year the bottom third couldn’t even pass Pennsylvania’s PSSA test of basic math skills. This after 11 years in the WSSD at an expense of more than a $150,000 (not including special education).
The Math program may be “strong” compared to other PA schools but it is far from world class. For example, in Korea all students, including the children of poor rice farmers, take calculus in junior year. Why are our kids so far behind the children of Korean rice farmers?
Much of the blame goes to the math curriculum. Many prominent mathematicians recommend against its use “for future college students in science, engineering and (of course) mathematics.” If this is our strongest program, I shudder to think what is going on in the weak programs like English.
These struggling academic programs are depressing student achievement and causing the bottom 20% - 30% to fail basic skills exams. This has a large financial impact on the WSSD budget since many of these children will have to be remediated in expensive special education classes whose enrollment is skyrocketing. Wouldn’t it be better to improve the curricula so they don’t fail in the first place?
And, for you parents of higher-performing college-bound students, be aware that many of them may also require remediation in college due to these weak academic programs, sometimes requiring you to pay for an extra year of college.
Other schools have already succeeded in this endeavor. The City Springs School and other inner city schools in Baltimore recently reformed their curricula and have virtually eliminated remediation. Their fifth graders, who were once scoring in the bottom 20th percentile, are now scoring in the 90+ percentile. The comparable population of WSSD’s fifth graders didn’t come close to this level.
Let’s see if either candidate can come-up with any ideas before the election to improve these academic programs. Such an improvement will do far more to repair the WSSD’s financial condition than anything either candidate has proposed so far.
Swarthmore -- KDeRosa - 01 Nov 2005 KtmGuest (password: guest) when prompted.
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Much of the blame goes to the math curriculum. Many prominent mathematicians recommend against its use “for future college students in science, engineering and (of course) mathematics.” If this is our strongest program, I shudder to think what is going on in the weak programs like English. I love it! -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Do you have a source for the Korean rice farmers? Because I need it. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Let’s see if either candidate can come-up with any ideas before the election to improve these academic programs. Such an improvement will do far more to repair the WSSD’s financial condition than anything either candidate has proposed so far. FABULOUS! You nailed it. Bad curriculum =
-- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
The first article is from Prof Wu at berkeley. The Korean Rice farmers quote I