**A Review of the Report of the Task Force on the
Education of Maryland’s African-American Males**

** **

**Useful Initiatives that should have been included**

** **

**By Jerome Dancis**

** **

** **

**Intervention and African American Males**

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**Comments by Dr. Jerome Dancis** (Associate Professor
Emeritus of mathematics, UMCP)

Presented to the MD State Board of Education at its meeting on April 24, 2007.

Last month, I was duly sworn in as an official of the state of California. I was appointed by the California State Board of Education to be a Content Review Panel (CRP) member [based on a recommendation by the [California] Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission (Curriculum Commission)].

I will participate in the curriculum content review of Math textbooks submitted for adoption for the Intervention Program for Grades 4-7 in California. These textbooks will help students, who are a year behind in Math, to catch up.

My job is to ensure that four mathematics textbook series,
submitted for adoption for the Intervention Program for Grades 4-7 are accurate
and aligned to the especially good California mathematics standards.
California is *unique* in requiring that
Grades K-8 mathematics textbooks [whose purchase is subsidized by the state] be
accurate and do not have *wrong*
Mathematical statements.

California wants its students to be taught "real" Algebra, (that is, Arithmetic-based Algebra) in Grade 8. So California has also commissioned the writing of Algebra readiness textbooks for those students who enter Grade 8 not ready to study Algebra.

To me, these are common sense types of intervention – Using textbooks, specifically written to facilitate at-risk students catching up.

Then I browsed the report of the
Task Force on the Education of Maryland’s African-American Males. There
was *no* hint of using such textbooks.

Then I looked at the membership of the taskforce. There was no college professor of Mathematics or of science or of social studies. College faculty were represented by a college professor of gym (physical education), who directs a home school program.

At the MD BOE's April 24, 2007 meeting, BOE member, Dr. Karabelle A. L. Pizzigati said that there is a need to talk to college faculty. I strongly agree. But college professors of Mathematics and science and social studies are rarely among the many stakeholders assigned to MSDE's task forces.

The task force lets MSDE largely off the hook. There is __no__
call for MSDE to raise standards for teacher (or principal) certification or to
improve the MD (so-called) Voluntary Curriculum. The task force __does__
call for using non-violent __ex-cons__ to earn students' attention.

** **

Below, I will suggest ways to address three important issues raised by the following quotes in the task force report.

1. "*This Task Force isn’t the first to cite
research showing that teacher quality predicts academic success better than
anything else* … ."

2. "*Increase the proportion of
African-American males taking the PSAT in 10th grade and*

*provide
them the academic preparation and support they need to score well on it.*

*…
Encouraging African-American students to take the test without giving them the
academic support to do well on it sets them up for failure … We cannot
continue to encourage PSAT participation if we’re unable to improve
performance, for raising expectations only to dash them is a cruel
compromise."*

* *

*3. " **Help African-American males make the
transition from high school to college***.**

*… The Task Force
recommends two strategies for helping African-American males make the
transition from high school to college: 1) Align high school graduation
requirements with the University System of Maryland entrance requirements. ** 2) Develop in all high schools*

*articulation models
with two- and four-year colleges."*

From the task force report:

*1. This Task Force isn’t the first to cite
research showing that teacher quality predicts academic success better than
anything else* … .

MSDE does *not*
require, nor does the report suggest that future high school Math teachers take
a single college course in Geometry or in Probability or in Data Analysis.
Even though Probability and Data Analysis are two of the main topics of the MD
HSA on Functions, Algebra, Probability and Data Analysis. MSDE does *not* require, nor does the report suggest that middle
school Math teachers be fluent in decimals and fractions.

Massachusetts is implementing new Math content standards for
its *elementary* school teachers (K-5);
these standards will be *higher*
than MSDE’s Math content standards for its endorsement as a “highly
qualified” *middle* school
Math teacher. (Massachusetts's new Math content standards for K-5 teachers may
be accessed from http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/)

The excellent article, "Racial Equity Requires Teaching Elementary School Teachers More Mathematics"[1] ends with: “Children who have been mathematically abused are much less able to benefit from mathematically competent teachers when they finally reach them. One lesson our current elementary school teachers convey powerfully is that math is too difficult to understand. Because knowledge of mathematics correlates strongly with economic and political achievement, the mathematical education of all elementary school teachers is the paramount equity issue. As Will Rogers said long ago, ‘You can't teach what you don't know any more than you can come back from where you ain't been’.”

MSDE should raise its certification requirements so that all teachers will be fluent in the Mathematics or other subjects they will be teaching.

From the task force report:

*2.
Increase the proportion of African-American males taking the PSAT in 10th
grade and*

*provide
them the academic preparation and support they need to score well on it.*

*…
Encouraging African-American students to take the test without giving them the
academic support to do well on it sets them up for failure … We cannot
continue to encourage PSAT participation if we’re unable to improve
performance, for raising expectations only to dash them is a cruel compromise.*

But, the task force report provides *no* hint at what the
academic support might be.

Let's look at a
typical SAT Math problem, one that the SAT rated as a __medium__
level problem.

**An SAT medium level Problem**. "How many __minutes__ are required for a car to go 10 miles
at a constant speed of 60 miles per hour?" ** **(Item#5 of Section 7 of the May 2000 SAT Math test.)

Instruction for the many PSAT Arithmetic problems belongs in middle school. It would be inappropriate to include instruction for such problems in an Algebra I or Algebra II course.

The Math S.A.T. problems are just elementary, albeit non-template problems: one minute problems, requiring 15-20 seconds of thought. They also require * precise reading, * the ability to translate English sentences into mathematics, * the ability to following directions, * basic conceptual understanding of elementary mathematics and * facility with basic problem solving. Being able to do these things is essential not only for math courses but for all courses with some quantitative aspects.

I suggest that the PSAT Arithmetic and Pre-Algebra problems be included in the MD Voluntary Curriculum for middle school Math. Then middle school Math teachers will provide middle school students with instruction for solving these problems. This should dramatically raise the PSAT scores of many students; it could even raise the average PSAT scores of Black male students above the current not-that-high average PSAT scores of white students. The Appendix discusses related issues.

MSDE would need to include fluency in Math PSAT problems in its standards for the "highly qualified" endorsement for middle school Math teachers; a worthy step towards reasonable standards.

From the task force report:

*3. Help
African-American males make the transition from high school to college***.**

*… The Task Force
recommends two strategies for helping African-American males make the
transition from high school to college: 1) Align high school graduation requirements
with the University System of Maryland entrance requirements. ** 2) Develop in all high schools*

*articulation
models with two- and four-year colleges.*

To survive the first year of college, students need the three Rs, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (and Arithmetic-based Algebra). The University System of Maryland entrance requirements are low; they do not specifically include Reading, Writing or Arithmetic; this is why U MD has remedial courses.

** **

**Reading**: Reading means being able to comprehend their
textbooks. Many (perhaps, 70% of) high school students cannot do this. (See: Literacy
(writing and reading) is crucial on my website, http://www.math.umd.edu/~jnd/Literacy.htm)

**Writing**. Student need
to be able to write coherent (one-page) reports, concisely, comprehensively,
logically, accurately and precisely without being cryptic, vague, ambiguous,
obscure, redundant or repetitive.

“Along a wall [of the tutoring center at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Dundalk campus] is a rack of handouts explaining points of grammar that might have last been explicitly taught in middle school, a measure of the immense ground to be made up [by some college students]. One covers comparative adjectives, explaining 'more' vs. 'most' or 'smarter' vs. 'smartest.' Another discusses using pronouns and verb tenses.” [“At 2-Year Colleges, Students Eager but Unready” The New York Times September 2, 2006 http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/diana_jean_sch emo/index.html?inline=nyt-per]

There was a dramatic rise from 37% in 2003 to 50% in 2004 in the percentage of Baltimore County students passing the HSA on English. Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston credits the increase to a dramatic change in the English curriculum, from one based on literature to one that placed major emphasis on grammatical structure. The HSA on English's added emphasis on grammatical structure may be resulting in high school students being better at reading and writing and hence better prepared for college. YEA

**Arithmetic and
Arithmetic-based Algebra**.

College professors are distressed
by the low level of understanding of Algebra and Arithmetic by large numbers of
White as well as Black students as they enter college -- even students who have
taken calculus in high school. This concern prompted the local college math
professors' professional association [ the MD/DC/VA section of the MAA] to
issue its statement "ON MATHEMATICS PREPAREDNESS" College math
professors decreed: "Students should be able to perform Algebra and
Arithmetic calculations, without the assistance of calculators." This is
the *opposite* of the MD HSA on calculators-based
Algebra, which effectively mandates the exclusive use of calculators for
Algebra I. [See my report, "COMMENTS ON STATEMENT ON MATHEMATICS
PREPAREDNESS on my website at
"http://www.math.umd.edu/~jnd/On.MD.MAA%20.htm]

As Dr. Ronald Williams, President,
Prince George's Community College [PGCC] noted (on September 6, 2006): There
is a chasm between what students are learning in high school math and what PGCC
demands. This is *not* an accident. The
MD Voluntary Curriculum marginalizes Arithmetic and the MSDE mandated High
School calculator-based Algebra 1 course is *antithetical *to the College arithmetic-based Algebra.

It is difficult for good students to learn and remember Arithmetic when only a modest amount of class time is allocated to Arithmetic instruction as suggested by the MD Voluntary Curriculum.

Then, students' limited knowledge of Arithmetic gets rusty when they take the MSDE mandated High School calculator-based Algebra 1. Thus the HSA and the MD Voluntary Curriculum are setting up many students to take remedial Arithmetic and remedial College Algebra when they enter college. Many do not know enough Arithmetic to succeed.

As the New York Times article, “At 2-Year Colleges, Students Eager but Unready” noted " More than one in four remedial students work on elementary and middle school arithmetic. Math is where students often lose confidence and give up." [http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/diana_jean_sch emo/index.html?inline=nyt-per]

You will find more info in my report, “Notes on Remedial Math Problem” on my website at http://www.math.umd.edu/~jnd/Remedial.Math.Problem.htm.

Re.:
"* 2) Develop in all high schools articulation models with two- and
four-year colleges.*"

High school Algebra I used to be
quite similar to college Algebra. **No more**!
Now MSDE requires high school Algebra 1 to be aligned with the MD's HSA on
Functions, Algebra, Data analysis and Probability. Basic Algebra, like solving
2x = 8, or graphing y = 3 x + 7 without the aid of a graphing calculator or
knowing that 3x + 2x = 5x, is not on the syllabus for the MD Algebra exam.
"Even one of the people responsible for the [Maryland Algebra] test,
[MSDE] official Gary Heath, said, 'We would be the first to tell you it
doesn’t have a lot of algebra, nor was it intended to.' "
[Frontpage, The Washington Post, August 19, 2002]

Unfortunately, the Maryland MSA and HSA Math exams pressure school systems to prepare students for the test itself, not for college. For example, a 1999 Montgomery County staff development session for Algebra I for teachers was summarized to me as: "Do not worry about the students understanding algebra -- Just be sure they can put anything on their hand calculators."

The Prince George's County
Public School's (PGCPS) "LOOK-FORS" are check-off lists of items for
administrators to look for when they visit classrooms. All three
"LOOK-FORS" lists for Mathematics instruction, include this
requirement: "Manipulatives, math tools and calculators are readily
available and utilized". Having students doing simple Arithmetic, by hand
is NOT on any PGCPS Mathematics instruction "LOOK-FORS" list. This is a very good strategy if the goal is just to have
students pass the MD [calculator-based] Algebra exam. This low emphasis on students doing simple Arithmetic by hand
will *set-up* graduates
to take remedial arithmetic and remedial arithmetic-based Algebra I when they
enter college.

__Silver
Chips__, (Dec. 18, 2003), the student newspaper of Blair High School (Silver
Spring, MD) http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/inside.php?sid=2639
Two quotes:

"MCPS [Montgomery County Public Schools] mandated changes to the Algebra I curriculum to align the course with the tested material [MSDE's HSA on calculator-based Algebra]. 'We don't think the material is what they need to know to be successful [in Algebra II and Precalculus],' said Blair H.S. algebra lead teacher Maria Costello".

"Changes in the curriculum are cited as a main cause for students' deficiencies in basic algebra, which are manifesting themselves in higher level math courses that require an understanding of concepts taught in Algebra I. 'Our Algebra II students are worse than ever. Our Pre-Calculus students are worse than ever. It's falling apart as we go up the ladder,' said Costello."

Re.: *Help African-American males make the
transition from high school to college***.**

The best way to help African-American males make the transition from high school to college would be to provide viable K-12 instruction in the 3 Rs in public schools. This will require teachers, who are fluent in the Mathematics they are assigned to teach and improvements in the MD Voluntary Curriculum

For those who arrive at college, not fluent in Mathematics,
I suggest Math Workshops at the colleges along the lines of the ones that
enabled Black
students at the University of California at Berkeley to *excel* in calculus. The average grade of Black students, with
the Math Workshops training, was higher than the
average grade of White students without the Math
Workshops training. [Look at the reports on my
website, linked to the paragraph:

"Treismans Calculus Project - My paper "Alternate Learning Environment Helps [Black] Students Excel In Calculus -- A Pedagogical Analysis" (long version) Math Workshops - More Treisman type workshops needed. (short version)"]

**What can be done to improve K-12 math education in
Maryland?**

This was the last question of the full interview of me for the February/March 2006 newsletter of the Baltimore Curriculum Project. A summary is at http://www.baltimorecp.org/newsletter/BCPnews_feb06.htm#spotlight

My answer was:

Appropriate standards for teacher certification together with appropriate teacher training is crucial to improving education. A recent New York Times editorial makes this point:

No matter how hard localities try, the best-designed high schools in the world will still fail unless the states and the federal government finally bite the bullet on teacher training. That means doing what it takes to remake the teacher corps, ... [i]

I would paraphrase its second sentence as: No matter how hard localities try, the best-designed schools in the world will still fail unless the states finally bite the bullet on standards for teacher certification.

I would recommend the following changes in order to improve math education:

- MSDE must first bite the bullet on standards for teacher certification. Especially raising Arithmetic content standards for K-5 teachers and Arithmetic and real Algebra content standards for Middle school Math teachers.
- Institute new state certifications for combined middle school math and science teachers and for AP Calculus teachers. An AP Calculus teacher could provide math expertise and math leadership for his/her high school’s math teaching team. (Same for middle school teachers and for AP teachers in other subjects.)
- Provide serious professional development in Arithmetic and real Algebra for those K-8 teachers who would benefit from it.
- Provide bonuses for elementary and middle school principals and vice-principals who are fluent in Arithmetic and Real Algebra. They could provide their teachers with leadership in Arithmetic instruction and could accurately evaluate Arithmetic instruction.

Raising the math standards for math teachers will enable the state to raise math standards for students.

- Replace the counterproductive Maryland Content Standards with the California Standards. Better yet, use the Singapore standards for K-7 [ii] or use a "cut-down" version of Achieve's K-8 math curriculum standards [iii] (by moving its Grades 6-8 probability material and much of the Geometry to high school). Maryland is one of 18 states that joined Achieve's "Mathematics Achievement Partnership". Singapore textbooks were used with great success in College Gardens Elementary (Montgomery County). It would be easy to implement Singapore standards for K-7 since the extremely well written Singapore textbooks are written in English. [iv]
- For High School use textbooks approved by the state of California for this Century or academic math textbooks from the 1950’s.
- Use the PSAT Math exam for the states Math exam for Grade 8, required by NCLB. The bulk of the PSAT Math exam consists of Arithmetic and pre-Algebra questions, but the PSAT questions require a moderate amount of thinking and analysis. Teaching to the PSAT Math exam would considerably raise the level of teaching mathematical thinking and analysis. [v]
- Replace the MD pretend Algebra exam with the Algebra I questions on the common Math placement exam of MD community colleges.
- Require that MD Hope scholarship recipients be able to enter college, without the need to take any remedial course. This would pressure high schools to raise standards.

[1] This is the title of Math Professor Patricia Clark Kenschaft’s excellant article in the Notices of the AMS, February, 2005, Volume 52, Number 2 or at http://www.ams.org/notices/200502/fea-kenschaft.pdf

[i] Concluding paragraph of "Reinventing High School", Lead editorial The New York Times. February 1, 2005

[ii] It would be easy to implement the Singapore standards for K-7 since they are extremely well written and the Singapore textbooks are written in English. After two years, the principal, the teachers, the students and the parents at College Gardens Elementary were all in favor of the books.

[iii] (See www.achieve.org/achieve.nsf/MAP-k-8?OpenForm)

[iv] The website to obtain Singapore math books is: http://singaporemath.com

http://singaporemath.com/new_elem_math.htm#NEM%20Order)

[v] Bowler, M. (31 March 2004). A call to
raise the standards; Expectations: UMBC's president urges state education
officials to push schools toward academic excellence. *The Baltimore Sun, *pg. 2.B. "When opponents of the SAT, for example,
tee off on its purported bias against minorities, [University of Maryland,
Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III] replies that he has been
writing SAT test questions for years -- and that minorities can, and many do,
ace the SAT."