There’s been a great contrast this week in the continuing debate over how much math students should have studied when they graduate from high school. The Houston Independent School District decided less was better so they voted that kids could get their diploma with only two years, down from three. As you might imagine, the outcry over that was huge and the board is now backing off from the change.
Over in Georgia, however, they are taking a different approach. Rather than just say that students must take more, they are revising the entire structure of high school math. The state is now going to integrate Algebra, Geometry, Statistics and other topics into a mandatory three year program. In the end, all students will have the equivalent of Algebra II by the time they graduate. But they will get a better sense of how the different mathematical work together.
It makes a lot of sense. Segmenting topics in math is artificial at best and creates the impression that one can learn Geometry without Algebra and vice versa. I love the fact that they’ve specifically included statistics in there. A good introduction to the concepts of probability would go a long way to help kids understand the numbers swirling around them everyday. Maybe we’ll have fewer suckers throwing their money at lotteries.
A major overhaul to the traditional high school math sequence is not going to be simple – and writing the courses will the easy part. Georgia schools will need to develop a comprehensive training program for teachers, especially those who have been "specializing" in one topic or another for a long time.
And then there’s the equally big job of educating the parents. Many will object to the new system for a variety of reasons but mainly because it differs from the way they studied math when they went to school. School officials have more than a half century of American tradition to overcome and, by itself, that’s a pretty hard problem to solve.
Just one comment. The local school has a math program that they call algeostat, which is a combination of several kinds of mathematics. I can see some value in it, but after having 5 kids go through it, I think that it doesn’t provide enough of any one of them to make the students really proficient. I talked to the precalc teacher at the school off the record, and she noted that none of the students that took the algeostat series was anywhere near ready for the precalc, because they did not have the depth that they needed.