Math Curricula and the New York Knicks

After a number of education-related jobs including subbing, teaching religious school, and working at overnight camps, Jesse Schneiderman is a high school social studies teacher at a charter school in the South Bronx. Jesse believes that, while we’d love to eliminate a good deal of testing, that it’s important to work to live with it rather than against it.

Teams across sports make the same mistake over and over again: they change coaches or management too quickly to see strategies put in place actually play out. My New York Knicks are a prime example. From 2001-2012, the Knicks had eight coaches and, until recently, were the subject of much mockery throughout the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs (a model NBA franchise), on the contrary, have had one.

New York’s math curriculum from 2002-2008 was more Knicks than Spurs. During this time, New York went from the “sequential” system, to the “Math AB” sequence, to a subject-based system. If a student entered high school in 2002, he or she took Sequential I (and was expected to take three math Regents exams through his or her high school career). A student entering high school in 2003, however, would start in Math A (and take two math Regents by his or her senior year).  From 2008 on, students have taken subject based math courses. That’s three math tracks in six years.

Imagine being a math teacher in 2004. How could you best help your students when asked to prepare sophomores for a Regents in January, start a new course for those same sophomores immediately following the exam, while teaching juniors Trigonometry and advanced Algebra (and preparing them for an entirely different state test, of course)? A little stability would have gone a long way.

With the recent news of Common Core testing in schools and the anxiety it has caused students, a fervor to back off on testing our kids has been renewed. My big concern with testing, however, is that it will resemble my New York Knicks and our old math curriculum. If the Common Core were implemented, it would take thirteen years to test one full cycle of students (kindergarten through twelfth grade). To get a large enough sample, however, it should get at least three full cycles (fifteen years).  That begs the question – will we be patient enough with our new system? Once poor test scores reign in years three, four, and five of the Common Core, will testing companies start looking elsewhere for their pay day? Hopefully, whatever system is implemented is given a true chance to be evaluated. In other words, let’s be the Spurs, not the Knicks.