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Let me simply reuse a letter I sent to the Delaware School Superintendent as an open letter to all School Superintendents and Middle School Principals.
Dear School Superintendent,
I attended the Governor's recent talk with the public in Dover. His call for ideas has finally moved me to approach you with a simple plan for shifting education in Delaware into high gear.
The idea is based on the fundamental difference between math and the other subjects. Mathematics is basically pure logic, albeit dressed up in numbers, while the other subjects are collections of facts, more or less. The path through math is straight and narrow. Whereas one need not, and, in fact, cannot possibly, learn everything about Greek history, say, before moving on to Delaware history, there is simply no sense in going on to the next step in math without mastery of everything up to that point.
A math curriculum that demands mastery to move ahead would certainly produce the highest performing math students in the nation. Moreover, the mental discipline demanded by such a curriculum could only have a positive effect on student performance in the other subjects.
So, the idea is that students progress through math completely independently from the other subjects. A student will have a "math grade" based on mastery, and a conventional "social grade," pegged mainly to his age, for everything else.
A middle school covering grades 6 through 8 would make an ideal proving ground for this idea. A student who has not mastered basic arithmetic by grade 6 would stop right there - hopefully not for long - until he has fully mastered it and can move ahead. Solid 8th grade math skills furnish math power to burn for the masses, and are absolutely necessary for advanced math. It says an awful lot that there is no math on the SAT higher than about an 8th-grade level.
A "self-study" math curriculum would be chosen. The learning environment would be much like the one-room schoolhouse, with students progressing at their own rate, and advanced students assisting the ones coming up. This system would actually require fewer teachers for the same number of students. The job requirements would be more in tune with those of a tutor than a classroom teacher. All students, from the weakest to the strongest, would have the benefit of working side-by-side with a mathematics "master craftsman" - such as myself - who can "show them how it's done", and pull them through the material quickly, securely, and not without lots of smiles and good times along the way.
If the sensibleness of this idea becomes apparent enough to give it a try, my own gift for working one-on-one with students can be had for substitute wages. I'd also be happy just to share the insights I have gained into math and math education over the decades, in part from seven years as a tutor here in Dover. I never meet a student who has solid third and fourth grade math skills - and nothing could be easier to rectify, given how little there really is to math.
Thanks for giving this idea your careful consideration.
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