STEM Class Issues from the 2017-2018 Aragon School Year: Part 3 – Physics

This is the third and final article in a three article series.  The first article was about precalculus at Aragon.  The second article focussed on AP Statistics.

In this article I comment on Aragon’s regular and AP physics program. Continue reading “STEM Class Issues from the 2017-2018 Aragon School Year: Part 3 – Physics”

STEM Class Issues from the 2017-2018 Aragon School Year: Part 2 – AP Statistics

This is the second in a three article series.  The first article was about precalculus at Aragon.  The third article is about Aragon’s physics classes.

AP Statistics is taught by possibly the best math teacher at Aragon, Mr. Shahrvini.  That is a big plus, but this article is intended to provide information to students and parents about what the class entails.

Unfortunately Aragon counselors often portray the class as an “easier alternative to AP Calculus.”  In my experience (and, of course, others might disagree), it is more accurate to describe AP Statistics as being “different” from AP Calculus.  Depending upon a student’s abilities/habits the class might be easier, or it could turn out to be very hard and frustrating. Continue reading “STEM Class Issues from the 2017-2018 Aragon School Year: Part 2 – AP Statistics”

Before You Vote on Upcoming School Ballot Measures, Please Read This!

Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor often acknowledged as the most influential educator researcher in the U.S.A, has written an extremely compelling article about the state of American education.  I urge all of you to read it (it is not a lengthy article), particularly before you vote on your next local school tax measure:

“What Teacher Strikes Are Really About.”

An excerpt follows:

“A nation that under-educates its children in the 21st century cannot long survive as a world power. Prisons — which now absorb more of our tax resources than public higher education did in the 1980s — are filled with high school dropouts and those with low levels of literacy. We pay three times more for each prisoner than we invest in each child’s education annually. With an aging population and only three workers for every person on Social Security, the United States especially needs all young people to be well-educated enough to gain good work in the complex and rapidly changing economy they are entering. Without their ability to pay the taxes that support the rest of society, the social contract will dissolve.”

An Open Letter to the SMUHSD and SMFCSD Boards of Trustees

The public deserves better notification and input into major changes in the math and science curricula.

[ UPDATE on 3/5/2018: The letter below has led to some important contacts, and I hope to provide additional information to the public by the end of this week. ]

In our global economy, especially here in the Silicon Valley area, our children’s future and the future of our economy depends on strong training in mathematics and science.  These are the prerequisites for most technical fields.

Unfortunately, California has a checkered history of curriculum experimentation and this has impacted our local schools.

As I indicated previously on my blog, the San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) is undergoing a major revision of the non-AP science courses this year, and I am personally seeing the disruption that this causes for some of my students.

As just one example, more students than in prior years have been encouraged to take AP Physics (which is supposed to be algebra-based college level physics) before they have had a good high school level physics class.  As a consequence, the Aragon H.S. physics teacher has five AP physics classes this year, no classes using Aragon’s previously excellent regular physics curriculum, while the Aragon AP chemistry teacher has been tasked with putting together a new regular physics class at Aragon in collaboration with other district teachers.

This was done in an attempt to implement the Next Generation Science Standards even though there are no textbooks available that are aligned to those standards.  These changes are also impacting the other regular science courses in addition to physics.

As another example of bad consequences for kids, the San Mateo – Foster City School District (SMFCSD) tried to implement the “Everyday Mathematics” program for several years and then abandoned it a few years back.  This program was supposedly “highly researched,” but when I personally looked into the research studies tabulated in the U.S. Department of Education’s “What Works” database, every single one of the studies was flagged as being statistically flawed.  However, a single study pointed “in the right direction” and the textbook publisher took that fumble and stretched it into a touchdown!  I have to wonder if any of the people involved in the curriculum evaluation took the time to examine the “research!”

Every time this happens, children suffer.

They suffer particularly when the mathematics curriculum is disrupted because each subsequent school year clearly depends upon the knowledge gained previously.

 

I am requesting that both local districts take no further action on major curriculum shifts in math and science without first sending out email or other notifications to parents that such changes are under consideration.

 

I have served previously on local school committees and know that putting these items solely on Board agendas does not insure that the issues will receive the recognition and public discussion that they deserve.  The obviousness of this fact is plain to anyone who looks at the lengthy Board meeting agendas on the local district websites.

Furthermore such agenda items are often relegated to the end of lengthy meetings that deal with routine district business.  This requires parents to sit through a couple of hours of discussions irrelevant to their concerns before they can discuss issues that may have major impacts on their children!

As one parent said to me recently about the school systems, “They just wear you down” and make people give up.  Also if they do not like your opinion, one is often met with stony silence.

Regarding the SMUHSD science changes, I have met in person with both the Director of Curriculum and Assessment and later with Superintendent Skelly as I wrote previously on my blog.

Members of the SMUHSD Board have remained conspicuously silent for the last two weeks despite my having directed emails to them about this topic (I have also copied the SMFCSD Board).

Perhaps they have “public meeting” Brown Act concerns about replying to me, but the Board’s own Bylaws clearly state that “Individual contacts or conversations between a Board member and any other person are not subject to the Brown Act. (Government Code 54952.2)

I would still like to know directly from Board members what they thought was the rationale for making this science curriculum change without the availability of a standards-aligned textbook.

As I stated previously after my conversation with Superintendent Skelly (and I emphasize that it was a cordial discussion), I left the meeting with the feeling that, once again, this train has left the station and there is no way to recall it.

My ongoing purpose is therefore to try to ensure that these kind of decisions do not happen again without greater public scrutiny.

PLEASE, make sure that all parents in the both the SMUHSD and SMFCSD are notified by email or regular mail if another major curriculum change is contemplated, especially in mathematics.

Our children are more than test statistics to be used to illustrate progress for the local districts.  I see their problems one-on-one, face-to-face on a daily basis.  I just wish that others could do so as well; perhaps that would put an end to this.