More Math – And Representation

We spend a lot on ed tech, probably more than you think?  Here’s Laura Slover and Mike Cohen on assessment policy for this year. Bellwether’s annual report is here.

Fordham has an unfinished learning wiki.

Two follow-ups from yesterday.

On math, I was wondering about whether the key elements of algebra are what make it an equity tool or if it’s more about the reality that if you take algebra in 8th-grade in 9th-grade you’re taking geometry and your schedule keys off of that since it’s aligned with other college prep classes. In that latter case the role of algebra as an equity tool is as a tracking disruptor. Or it could be both of course.

Mathalicious founder and math expert Karim Ani, who has a must-read book on math coming soon, responded,

You ask a good question about Algebra as a gatekeeper. You could make a good case for 7th grade, since proportionality is such a huge concept in math and life. But Algebra seems reasonable as a focus. It’s the course where kids do their first deep dives into functions and relationships between variables, which is a major foundation of everything to follow. Also, algebra synthesizes a lot of material from before. So if a kid absolutely blows it in middle school, they can still catch up reasonably well if they succeed in algebra and be in good shape for what’s to come.

We also talked about this issue of how various groups and advocates don’t always represent either the median view or range of views of people they purport to represent. In our sector some of this is ingrained elite bias. But some of it is also the way various organizations are set up and a function of special interest groups overall. And some of it is unavoidable, large groups of people are diverse, it’s a big country, and all that.

It begs an obvious question though – are there exceptions? I’d say yes to some extent and one I’d note in our sector is AASA, they represent school superintendents. I used to work there in the mid-90s so speaking of a bias I probably have one, but it seems objectively that they have a policy decision process that means their policy positions broadly reflect where the median school superintendent is on the issues of the day. It’s one reason they’re sometimes in a different place than the Council of Great City Schools, an organization that represents large mostly urban school systems. And why on some issues, for instance special education policy but there are others, they’re often outside of the Washington consensus. I don’t always agree with them but this approach seems like a good thing. And I’m struck how when you talk with superintendents, either informally or in settings like this, they tend to be more aligned with AASA than when you talk to people represented by some other groups. 

To a certain kind of person that makes AASA suspect because they’re outside that consensus and sometimes unpredictable. I remember an earnest education lobbyist for a major interest group once instructing me that all education interest group politics was supposed to be a front for Democratic Party politics and deviation from that was a problem. That seemed to me like something a membership organization should make clear to its members at a minimum if that is what they are signing up for?

And it’s obviously something that happens with Republican leaning groups as well. The recent dust up over the Chamber of Commerce endorsements seemed like a healthy development. Because, if you think that viewpoint diversity and vigorous debate about varying perspectives is an instrumental part of progress then less lockstep is refreshing. Especially now.

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