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Valley Perspective

Cultivating High Achievement in Math

February 18, 2001

Re "Math Lessons: Beyond Rhetoric, Studies in High Achievement," Valley Perspective, Feb. 11.

It is good that David Klein found three low-income schools in the Southland that are being successful. I am certain if he had been asked to find six or more schools doing well, he would have been able to do that and possibly find even more. He asked us to look at the way in which the schools are alike. That would certainly give us the basis for a study to see what the true cause of their success is. After being involved in education for more than 40 years, it seems to me that the greatest reason for their success is not the specific materials they use or even the manner in which they teach. It most likely would be that "faculty at all three schools are well-coordinated and work together. Principals at these schools are strong leaders, and they are careful to hire dedicated teachers." When you have a strong principal and teachers who work together you have the essence of success, as most research will tell you.

After telling us about the success of these schools and suggesting that the reason for their success is the mathematics program used, Klein [tells] us of the wonders of the "world-renowned mathematicians at Stanford University" and the "high-caliber standards" they developed for California. By this time, Klein must have worked with enough teachers below the college level to have learned that world-renowned mathematicians do not by that title alone gain the respect of teachers who spend their days working in the real world of elementary and middle schools. And I would like to ask, "What is high-caliber"? When looking at the state standards, it seems that mathematical skills have simply been pushed down to an earlier grade. . . . How much time and thought went into the writing of these standards?

In The Times on Jan. 24, there was an article about a report by the National Research Council stating that the chief goal of mathematics instruction should be "to integrate the teaching of basic computational skills with instruction in the underlying concepts of mathematics." That's what our state framework says also. Professor Henry Wu of Berkeley recently stated that he could not find that the Saxon series, which Klein promotes, helps students develop mathematical concepts. Perhaps that is why "the [Los Angeles Unified School District] board decided last year to prevent its elementary schools from buying the successful but traditional math program used at Bennett-Kew, called Saxon Math." Perhaps the LAUSD board is more knowledgeable than Klein knows. Perhaps they would like to follow the state framework.

MARIAN PASTERNACH

Chatsworth

*

As David Klein accurately pointed out in his Bookings Institution study, students will rise to the level of expectation.

Schools experiencing success had several commonalities.

Most noteworthy, Klein found that pigment and poverty do not have to equal poor progress. The socioeconomic level of the students attending the schools studied . . . had little bearing on academic achievement [at] these high-achieving, low-income public schools in the Los Angeles area.

Too often, academic expectations for students in all subject areas, not just mathematics, and grade levels, are set too low. Difficult topics are not presented. Discovery and cooperative learning strategies are employed and seldom are students held accountable for individual academic success. As a result, social promotion, the scourge of public education, has become the norm.

Teachers are pressured to use new teaching strategies and curriculum models developed by district "coordinators and specialists" and university professors who haven't seen the inside of a public school classroom for years. These packaged programs are expensive and have proven to be ineffective, yet they continue to be used to maintain the self-esteem and egotism of the administrative team recommending their utilization.

State exit examinations, Stanford Achievement testing and API [Academic Performance Index] scores will put an end to this nonsense.

DARWIN M. OCHS

Lancaster

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